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01-06-2024

Hearing loss linked to a greater risk of dementia

Researchers from the University of Southern Denmark have discovered a significant link between hearing loss and the heightened risk of developing dementia

The extensive study, involving over half a million participants, sheds new light on the cognitive challenges posed by hearing impairments.

Comprehensive analysis 

For the investigation, the researchers analyzed data from 573,088 individuals. The study is the largest of its kind to date. 

“Previous studies have suggested that there could be a link between hearing loss and dementia. Our study is larger than the previous studies, and we have demonstrated a link between hearing loss and dementia,” said Professor Manuella Lech Cantuaria.

Hearing loss, particularly in severe cases, requires individuals to expend more mental energy in listening, which may detract from other cognitive functions vital for brain health. 

These cognitive functions include the mental processes necessary for thinking, problem-solving, and similar activities.

Key insights

The results of the study are alarming yet informative. The team found that individuals with hearing loss have an increased risk of developing dementia by up to 13 percent compared to those with normal hearing. 

The risk escalates with the severity of hearing loss. Severe hearing impairment was associated with a 20% greater risk of dementia.

The role of hearing aids

The researchers also examined whether there was a difference in dementia risk based on the use of hearing aids. The results suggest that hearing aids might prevent or delay the onset and progression of dementia.

“We found that the risk of developing dementia was 20% higher for people who didn’t wear hearing aids compared to people with normal hearing. People who used hearing aids had a 6% increased risk of developing dementia. This suggests that wearing a hearing aid can prevent or delay the development of dementia,” explained Professor Cantuaria.

Broader Implications

The study’s implications are profound, especially considering the growing number of dementia cases worldwide. 

Around 800,000 Danes currently suffer from hearing loss, a number expected to rise due to increasing life expectancy and noise exposure.

More about dementia 

Dementia is a broad term that describes a decline in cognitive function that is severe enough to interfere with daily life. It primarily affects memory, but also significantly impairs other mental functions like reasoning, problem-solving, and language skills. 

Unlike normal aging, where memory might gradually diminish, dementia can cause dramatic changes in personality, behavior, and the ability to perform everyday tasks.

Alzheimer’s disease 

The most common type of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease, which accounts for a substantial percentage of cases. Alzheimer’s is characterized by a buildup of certain proteins in and around brain cells, leading to cell death and brain shrinkage over time. 

Other types of dementia 

Other types of dementia include vascular dementia, often caused by stroke or other conditions affecting blood flow to the brain, and Lewy body dementia, marked by abnormal protein deposits in brain cells.

Symptoms

Symptoms of dementia can vary widely, but they typically start gradually and worsen over time. Early signs might include simple forgetfulness, confusion with time or place, difficulty in finding the right words, or changes in mood and personality. 

As the condition progresses, symptoms become more pronounced, leading to more profound memory loss, difficulties in communication, and a decline in the ability to care for oneself.

Treatment

Dementia is primarily a condition of older age, but it is not an inevitable part of aging. Its exact causes are still not fully understood, but factors like genetics, lifestyle, and overall health play a role. 

There is currently no cure for most types of dementia, but there are treatments that can help manage symptoms. These include medications to improve symptoms or slow progression, as well as various therapies like cognitive stimulation and lifestyle changes to support brain health.

Research

Research continues to advance in understanding dementia, with a focus on early detection, prevention strategies, and finding more effective treatments. The condition’s impact on individuals, families, and healthcare systems underscores the importance of ongoing support and education for those affected.

The study is published in the journal JAMA Otolaryngology–Head & Neck Surgery.

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