Dear doctor, I’ve heard that hearing loss is linked to dementia. My mum struggles to hear, is she at greater risk?

28 August 2018

I’ve heard that hearing loss is linked to dementia. I’m concerned about my mum who struggles to hear but refuses to use a hearing aid. Is she at greater risk of getting dementia?

One in 900 babies are born with permanent hearing loss. The number of people affected by hearing loss increases with age. Hearing loss significant enough to interfere with communication affects about one in three adults over the age of 60 years and half of adults over the age of 75 years. Several studies in the past have reported a potential link between hearing loss in adults and dementia.

A recently published study pooled together the results of these studies involving more than 20,000 adults from 12 countries and concluded that adults with hearing loss were twice as likely to have dementia excluding Alzheimer’s (Alzheimer’s is but only one type of dementia) compared to those without hearing loss. It has to be emphasised that several factors are involved in the development of cognitive decline, a key feature of dementia.

The reasons for the association between hearing loss and dementia are not clear, however, hearing loss may compel some people to consciously avoid social situations. This may lead to loss of interest, isolation and loneliness. There is not enough evidence to suggest that hearing loss is a cause of dementia. It can only be considered a risk factor, one that can be modified by the use of hearing aids. Current research is exploring the effect of hearing aid use and dementia.

On the basis of what we currently know, adults with hearing problems are strongly advised to have a hearing test. If it's confined that hearing loss is significant enough to require hearing aids, they should be encouraged to use them with the aim of improving communication and reducing social isolation.

Find out more about Dr Victor Osei-Lah, Consultant Audiovestibular Physician practising at Spire Portsmouth Hospital.

 

The content of this article is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the professional medical advice of your doctor or other health care professional.

 

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