UK adults aged 55 and older are now being advised to have regular hearing check-ups, after a team of scientists revealed there could be a connection between hearing loss and dementia. More studies are underway, with the aim of determining whether or not using a hearing aid could help to slow the onset of dementia, or prevent the condition completely.
A member of the Alzheimer’s Research UK charity team, Dr. David Reynolds, told the Daily Mail: “Hearing loss is a risk factor which we may be able to modify to reduce the number of people who develop dementia or the rate of progression if they’ve already got it.”
It is believed that as much as a third of UK adults in the over-55 age group have some degree of hearing loss, which may be connected to one in ten cases of dementia. This data is drawn from a review of 13 studies examining the link between the two conditions was published in The Lancet.
Treating hearing loss in middle age could prevent nine percent of dementia cases
Looking further into the data, the Alzheimer’s Research UK team believe that diagnosing hearing loss in middle age and fitting individuals with hearing aids could prevent nine percent of cases of dementia. This figure may sound small, but it could improve health outcomes for a significant number of older adults. As there is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, preventing these conditions before their onset is crucial for improving quality of life in people’s later years.
Alzheimer’s Research UK is now joining forces with University College London in a £600,000-study into hearing aid use. It will look closely at the effects of training people to wear hearing aids, and whether this encourages them to continue with hearing aids long term.
Hearing aids linked with better cognitive performance in US study
In another clinical study, this one carried out by American researchers on behalf of the SENSE-Cog group, it was found that memory scores improved in older adults who wore hearing aids. Data for the study was drawn from Health and Retirement Study (HRS), which examined cognitive performance repeatedly every 2 years over 18 years (1996–2014). The participants were adults aged 50 or older who took part in at least three waves of the HRS and began using hearing aids between waves 4 and 11.
The research team found that decline in memory scores was slower after hearing aids were in use. The authors of the study were optimistic about the implications of these findings, and the potential of hearing aids to help reduce dementia rates, stating that “Providing hearing aids or other rehabilitative services for hearing impairment much earlier in the course of hearing impairment may stem the worldwide rise of dementia.”
Living with both hearing loss and dementia
It is not uncommon for individuals with dementia to also suffer from hearing loss. Both conditions can have a life-altering effect, by making it difficult to follow conversations, increasing one’s social isolation, and reducing independence.
Coping with both conditions is more of a struggle than coping with either one on its own, however there are strategies that can help.
-Untreated hearing loss can make dementia seem worse, so it is crucial to have regular hearing checks and make the most of a person’s existing hearing by using hearing aids.
-Adjusting the environment can also help. Reducing background noise and distractions and making sure the area is well lit is a good way to improve understanding in conversations.
-Many people with hearing loss use visual clues to aid in understanding–such as lip reading, gestures, and facial expressions. Find out what communication strategies help your loved one the most, and make sure your face is always in view while speaking.
-Many older adults find it difficult to adjust to wearing a hearing aid initially. You can offer your support through this adjustment period by encouraging them to wear their hearing aid for a short while every day, adding a little more time with each passing day. Don’t hesitate to get in contact with their audiologist for additional guidance or technical support.
Other benefits of hearing aids
Hearing aids have come a long way in past twenty years. Now they are small, comfortable, customisable tools that can provide natural-sounding amplification, effectively filter speech through background noise, and connect wirelessly to mobile phones and other devices.
Not only can treating your hearing loss help to keep your brain healthy, it can also boost your overall well-being and quality of life in other ways. Hearing aids have been shown to make daily communication easier, reduce conflict among family members, and improve safety and mobility.
If you or a loved one have been living with untreated hearing loss, take the first step and schedule your hearing exam with House of Hearing today. It’s one of the most important things you can do to safeguard your happiness and health, now and in the future.