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Can hearing loss increase your chance of getting dementia?

Several studies have shown that elderly people who suffer from hearing loss seem to be more at risk of developing dementia. Find out the essential facts

In a nutshell

Evidence of a link between hearing loss and dementia is growing. In fact, research suggests that people with mild hearing loss have nearly twice the risk of developing dementia as people without hearing loss. Alongside an increased risk of dementia, hearing loss in elderly people can also lead to more falls, more hospital admittance and a general decline in physical and mental health.

Here’s the science

Research reveals that people with impaired hearing seem to have accelerated rates of brain deterioration to those with normal hearing, losing an extra cubic centimetre of brain tissue every year. Interestingly, more shrinkage seems to occur in particular regions of the brain which are responsible for processing sound and speech. These areas, which include the middle and inferior temporal gyri, also play roles in memory and have been shown to be involved in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.

Three possible reasons why dementia and deafness might be linked

Whilst more research is needed to establish why dementia and hearing loss seem to be connected, these are some of the most commonly discussed theories:

1. The brain tires itself out because it has to overcompensate to hear things and this ‘cognitive overload’ makes dementia more likely.

2. Social isolation – people who can’t hear very well tend to withdraw socially, and numerous studies have found that this loss of engagement and loneliness can be a risk factor for dementia.

3. Hearing loss and dementia are linked because they’re caused by similar things or involve similar processes in similar parts of the brain.

Three facts worth knowing

– 44 per cent of people over 70 in the UK have moderate to severe hearing loss.
– Around 720,000 people are over 70 in the UK and have dementia.
– So…at least 316,000 people over 70 have hearing loss and dementia.
– Experts say that if hearing loss were properly diagnosed and managed in people with dementia at last £28million could be saved in delayed entry to care homes

Did you know? One US study followed nearly 2000 men and women aged 75-84 over six years and found that the cognitive ability of those with hearing loss declined 30-40 per cent faster than those with normal hearing.

Don’t panic

If you or someone you know has age-related hearing loss it doesn’t mean you’re going to ‘get’ Alzheimer’s disease. Hearing loss is very common as you get older and many people escape without any symptoms of cognitive decline or dementia.