Dementia and hearing loss: it’s time to have your say
03 March 2023
People with hearing loss appear to have an increased risk of developing dementia, and although we’re learning more about the relationship between the two conditions all the time, we still don’t fully understand why. Nor do we know for sure whether interventions like hearing aids reduce dementia risk – though there is growing evidence that they might.
This is why hearing loss is one of the risk factors for dementia that you may come across in our new Think Brain Health Check-in. The Check-in can offer guidance on where you may be able to make improvements to benefit your brain health, like getting a hearing test.
What we do know for certain is that these conditions together can have a big impact on someone’s day to day life. For example, they can both make it harder to communicate with friends and family, increasing people’s sense of isolation from the world around them. Hearing loss can even make diagnosing dementia more difficult, since people may have difficulties with some of the questions they are asked during memory assessments. Hearing loss can also mask the difficulties they are having.
With around 1 million people affected by dementia in the UK, and 12 million people estimated to have some type of hearing loss, it’s never been more important to understand this link and encourage everyone to get their hearing checked regularly. This would help to identify hearing loss earlier and potentially reduce the risk of developing dementia.
That’s why today – on World Hearing Day (3 March 2023) – Alzheimer’s Research UK is proud to be funding a new programme, the James Lind Alliance Priority Setting Partnership (PSP) for co-existing dementia and hearing conditions. We’re doing this in collaboration with some brilliant and experienced partners; the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Nottingham Biomedical Research Centre (BRC), the University of Nottingham, the James Lind Alliance, and the Royal National Institute for Deaf People (RNID).
Through this new programme, scientists will work with people affected by these conditions, and their doctors, to identify the top priority areas for future research studies about the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of dementia and hearing conditions. The aim is to ensure future research studies, or treatments being developed, are designed to address the real problems such people face in their everyday lives.
“Ensuring that people living with these life-changing conditions have a voice – along with their families and clinicians – is so important,” says Dr Eithne Heffernan, one of the researchers leading the PSP. “It means we can make future research into dementia and hearing loss more relevant, beneficial, and impactful.”
Over the next few months, the Eithne and her colleagues will be consulting widely across the UK, and working hard to involve people that are often underrepresented in research, including women and people from minority ethnic communities.
The partnership is a “great opportunity” to identify gaps in the current evidence, and opportunities for future studies, says Alzheimer’s Research UK’s Head of Policy Dr Susan Mitchell: “It will also help us shape our future research funding and policy work, so it genuinely benefits people living with hearing loss and dementia.”
Once the partnership’s work is complete, its findings will be shared with other research funders, commissioners and policy makers within government, to guide future research and make sure that, in future, care and treatments offered to people living with these conditions is fully tailored to their needs.
How to get involved
If you’re living with dementia and hearing loss, care for someone who is, or are a clinician working in this area, we’d love you to get involved. This could include taking part in online surveys or workshops. If you’d like to support this work, please email Sian Calvert, the partnership coordinator, on email@example.com.
To find out more about the different risk factors for dementia and explore your own brain healthy habits, complete our new Think Brain Health Check-in.