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Hearing loss link to dementia in new international study

Addressing hearing loss can play a major role in preventing dementia, a new international study published in The Lancet has found.

Mid-life hearing loss tops nine risk factors that contribute to the risk of dementia.

Others include failing to complete secondary education, smoking, failing to seek early treatment for depression, physical inactivity and social isolation. Researchers say hearing loss can deny people a cognitively rich environment and lead to social isolation and depression, which are among the other potentially modifiable risk factors for dementia.

The Lancet study is the latest in a growing body of evidence that links hearing loss and cognitive decline. BSHAA Chief Executive Prof David Welbourn today repeated the Society’s call for people to look after their hearing, and to get a hearing test as an important step to maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Lead author Professor Gill Livingston from University College London said: “Although dementia is diagnosed in later life, the brain changes usually begin to develop years before. Acting now will vastly improve life for people with dementia and their families and, in doing so, will transform the future of society.”

The risk of dementia can be significantly reduced if people take good care of their hearing

Prof David Welbourn, BSHAA Chief Executive

Reacting to the new study, BSHAA Chief Executive Professor David Welbourn, left, said: “For far too long, hearing loss has been considered unimportant by too many in the medical community. It has often been passed off as an inevitable consequence of ageing. Neither of these are true. The Lancet commission on dementia is the latest, and perhaps the most definitive, of a growing body of evidence pointing to an important truth. The risk of dementia can be significantly reduced if people take good care of their hearing.

“The Lancet report shows that a quarter of the risk that individuals can manage for themselves is linked to hearing, and for the first time they raise the importance of addressing this in mid-life between 45 and 65, not simply when it has been left untreated to later life and the damage has already been done.

“This is a real wake-up call to people who can, and should, do something for themselves by getting their hearing tested and taking advice. This is such an easy way in which people can invest in their long-term health, just as they do by joining a gym or taking other steps towards a healthier lifestyle.

“People should not look solely to the NHS to provide answers, as they are already rationing access in many areas, even for those over 65. Modern technologies really do work and are cost-effective for anyone who values their quality of life and fulfilment in work and leisure alike.”