Scientists led by researchers from Trinity College Dublin studied the link between age-related hearing loss and a decline in memory and thinking skills. Their work found that there was a small but significant link between loss of hearing, memory loss and risk of dementia. Their findings were published in the journal of JAMA Otolaryngology – Head & Neck Surgery.
Dr Carol Routledge, Director of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK said:
“In the UK, over two-thirds of people over the age of 65 experience hearing loss. Research into the links between loss of hearing and dementia is at an early stage, but recent studies have suggested that it could be a potentially important risk factor for the condition.
“This small but statistically robust association between hearing loss and a decline in memory skills adds to mounting evidence of a link, but the study does not conclusively show that hearing loss is driving memory problems. Hearing loss is associated with dementia risk factors like heart disease, which could also be an underlying reason for the link observed in this study.
“Some research suggests that being socially engaged and mentally active could help to boost cognitive reserve – a kind of mental resilience that may delay the effects of a disease like Alzheimer’s. As things that we hear can provide mental stimulation and a means of social interaction, a loss of hearing could influence cognitive reserve, leaving people more vulnerable to memory and thinking decline.
“As hearing loss is so widespread, it may have more impact on the overall number of dementia cases in the population than any other known risk factor. The only way to really know if treating hearing loss could lower dementia risk is through prospective clinical studies and Alzheimer’s Research UK is currently funding a study to help boost hearing aid use in people at a high risk of dementia.”
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