A study published today has suggested that hearing loss could be a risk factor for cognitive decline or dementia. The researchers, based at Trinity College Dublin, reviewed and analysed the results of 36 different studies involving over 20,000 people that looked into hearing loss and dementia. They found that age-related hearing loss had a small but significant association with cognitive decline and dementia.
Dr Clare Walton, Research Communications Manager said:
“There is emerging evidence that hearing loss is a risk factor for dementia, as highlighted by a large study in the Lancet Commission earlier this year. This research has reviewed and re-analysed the results of several previous studies, and the results add weight to the potential link between hearing loss and cognitive decline or dementia.
“So far these studies have only found an association between hearing loss and memory and thinking abilities and we can’t say for sure whether hearing loss can cause dementia. However, researchers have a few theories as to how hearing loss could feed into dementia risk. This includes the theory that the brain is diverting important resources from other areas in order to fully understand and process sounds, or that hearing loss can lead to increased social isolation. Further work is needed to find out whether any of these theories are true.
“We still don’t know if hearing aids can help to reduce the risk of dementia, but researchers are now turning their attention to this important question and we look forward to seeing the results.
“It is important to remember that not all cases of hearing loss will be associated with dementia. It is also important to get your hearing checked regularly, especially in mid-life and older age and to follow the advice of your audiologist.”
The World Health Organisation has also warned today that, as the global population ages, the number of people living with dementia is expected to triple from 50 million to 152 million by 2050.
The WHO also stated that the estimated annual global cost of dementia is US$ 818 billion, equivalent to more than 1% of global gross domestic product. The total cost includes direct medical costs, social care and informal care (loss of income of carers). By 2030, the cost is expected to have more than doubled, to US$ 2 trillion, a cost that could undermine social and economic development and overwhelm health and social services, including long-term care systems.
Dominic Carter, Senior Policy Officer at Alzheimer’s Society, said:
“With an ageing population and no way to cure, prevent or slow down the condition, dementia is set to be the 21st century’s biggest killer. If nothing changes, 2 million people in the UK will be living with dementia by 2051, more than double the number today.
“Many of these people will be heavily reliant on our social care system. These estimates are yet another wake-up call that the current system – already on its knees from decades of underfunding – needs urgent attention from the Government if it’s to cope.
“The UK must be a global leader in finding ways to tackle the challenge of caring for these vulnerable people, by both carrying out world leading research, and putting it into practice.”