Previous research has suggested an association between hearing loss and dementia, with a recent report naming mid-life hearing loss as a major risk factor for the condition. Research into the links between loss of hearing and dementia is still in its early stages, with hearing loss also associated with several other risk factors for dementia. It is not yet known whether treating hearing loss could help reduce the risk of dementia, but continued research into ways we can reduce our risk of the condition is vital.
Dr Gonzalez’s team has developed a four week pilot trial to ensure people with hearing loss and mild cognitive impairment start and continue to use hearing aids, with an eight month follow up to evaluate its effectiveness. If this study is successful, the findings could be used to run a larger trial to determine the link between hearing aid usage and brain function.
Hearing loss has been associated with a higher risk of dementia, however, it is also an obstruction to communicating with others and is linked with poor quality of life, loss of independence in daily activities, social isolation and depression, which in turn is associated with dementia. While treating hearing loss can make life easier for people living with dementia, we don’t yet know whether it could help reduce the risk of developing the diseases that cause dementia in the first place.
Hearing loss often occurs in peoples 70s, which is also a time when mild cognitive impairment becomes prevalent. However, most people do not get hearing aids, and those who do often stop using them especially if they are experiencing memory problems. Up to half of people with mild cognitive impairment will go on to develop dementia, and as such are a group who could benefit the most from a preventative measure to reduce their risk of the condition.
This pilot trial is hoping to encourage people with mild cognitive impairment and hearing loss to use hearing aids. If successful, the team hope to run a larger trial to establish if long term hearing aid use reduces the risk of dementia in people with mild cognitive impairment.
Dr Gonzalez’s team are developing a 4 week home based intervention to ensure people with hearing loss and mild cognitive impairment start and continue to use hearing aids. This includes a daily diary, weekly contact with researchers, and working with family and carers to understand personal habits. They will recruit 76 volunteers of over 55 years of age diagnosed with hearing loss and mild cognitive impairment. They will then split the volunteers into two groups, one group will have the four week intervention, while the other will be treated as usual for hearing loss. After eight months, the researchers will follow up on the participants to see if they are still using hearing aids.