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Hearing loss and dementia: how are they linked?

Hearing loss and dementia can often occur together as we get older, and have an impact on each other. We know they are linked in several ways, but we don’t know exactly how. RNID are funding vital research to find out more.

Hearing loss as a risk factor for dementia

There is strong evidence to show that:

  • mild hearing loss doubles the risk of developing dementia

  • moderate hearing loss leads to three times the risk

  • severe hearing loss increases the risk five times.

But can steps be taken to reduce or avoid this risk? An international review in medical journal The Lancet, published in 2017, suggested that hearing loss is one of nine key risk factors for dementia that are possibly modifiable (factors that can be changed to reduce dementia risk). The review suggested that one in three cases of dementia could be prevented if more people looked after their health throughout their lives. Other key risk factors for dementia include social isolation, smoking and depression.

Unaddressed hearing loss in mid-life was predicted to be the highest potentially modifiable risk factor for developing dementia. It is potentially responsible for 9% of cases. This is hugely important. Can addressing hearing loss – for example, by using hearing aids – reduce this risk? It’s vital we find out.

Misdiagnosis and further links

Hearing loss can sometimes be misdiagnosed as dementia. People with dementia can have difficulty communicating with others, including finding the right words, or signs, for what they want to say. They may have difficulty processing what they’ve heard, particularly if there are distractions. According to some researchers, this difficulty in processing information (when there is competing information) can be one of the first signs of cognitive impairment.

We also know that hearing loss can speed up the onset of dementia, or make the symptoms of dementia appear worse, and dementia can heighten the impact of hearing loss.

Credit - RNID


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