- Published on 25 April 2023
Dementia and hearing loss
BIHIMA and Alzheimer's Research UK are encouraging people to book regular hearing tests and get hearing concerns checked earlier, as it could lower their chances of developing dementia.
Early intervention for hearing loss could drastically reduce cases of dementia.
BIHIMA- the British Irish Hearing Instrument Manufacturers Association - is calling for more people to prioritise regular hearing tests to reduce their risk of dementia, as well as for more research into the links between hearing instrument use and dementia.
This comes after the launch of Alzheimer's Research UK's Think Brain Health Check-in, which highlights hearing loss as one of the risk factors for dementia that people may have the ability to influence.
It is believed that up to 40% of dementia cases could be prevented if 12 risk factors for dementia, including hearing loss, were to be completely eliminated.
"The connections between hearing loss and dementia have been on our radar for a long time and it's something that we are passionate about raising awareness of. We were therefore pleased to see Alzheimer's Research UK pinpoint hearing loss as a risk factor for dementia - more people are now talking about the links between the two and what they can do to minimise their own level of risk for developing this debilitating cognitive condition" said Paul Surridge, BIHIMA Chairman.
The effects of untreated hearing loss
Hearing loss can have an enormous impact on people's day-to-day lives. It can lead to feelings of isolation, depression, vastly reduced career opportunities and difficulty navigating daily activities. The ripple effects are enormous, impacting not only the individual but those around them.
This is why it is crucial that those with hearing loss seek treatment sooner rather than later.
The most recent UK EuroTrak data revealed that 95% of people wearing hearing instruments said it had improved their quality of life. This information cannot be underestimated: those who lack the opportunity to converse and connect in social situations, and have to constantly use their cognitive resources to battle to understand what other people are saying, are at far higher risk of cognitive decline such as that experienced by people living with dementia.
Dr. Susan Mitchell, Head of Policy at Alzheimer's Research UK, said: "While there's no sure-fire way to prevent dementia, which is caused by a complex mix of our age, genes, and lifestyle, we know that there are steps that we can all take that could reduce our risk. These include getting our hearing checked. Research has shown that people with unaddressed hearing loss are five times more likely to develop dementia than those without hearing loss. While we still need more research to fully understand the link between hearing loss and dementia, we'd encourage anyone who has concerns about their hearing to seek support."
A YouGov poll commissioned by Alzheimer's Research UK showed that 35% of people surveyed had concerns about their hearing, but more than half (59%) of these people said they hadn't done anything about those concerns.
These people could be struggling without the support they need to hear better, yet the effectiveness of hearing instruments is clear. One study from Johns Hopkins University suggests that hearing impaired people who wear hearing instruments have a 32 % lower prevalence of dementia. Reasons for this could include an increased confidence and interest in going out and socialising with other people (and in activities) which engage the brain.
"Hearing loss can make the brain work harder as it strains to fill in the gaps - this, unsurprisingly, comes at the expense of other cognitive functions. While we cannot always solve hearing loss, we can treat and improve it. By getting their hearing checked and having hearing instruments fitted, individuals will not have to push their brain as much, which could potentially jeopardise their memory systems" said Paul Surridge.
Dementia and hearing loss
• A study by researchers at Johns Hopkins found the likelihood of having dementia was 32% lower among people with hearing loss who used hearing instruments, compared to those who didn't.
• According to the latest EuroTrak UK data, 66% of people wished they had obtained their hearing instruments sooner.
• A new digital tool launched by Alzheimer's Research UK encourages people to take steps to address factors that could help reduce their risk of dementia, including sleep, diet and getting their hearing checked.
A call for action on hearing loss and dementia
While research has been carried out on the links between hearing instrument usage and lowered risks of dementia for hearing impaired people, there is still a need for ongoing research to further examine the known link between hearing loss and dementia and maximise the number of people booking regular hearing tests.
"With more data on a larger, international level, the hearing and health industry can make a stronger case for increasing funding into health campaigns, improving access to hearing tests and ensuring the journey to having a hearing instrument fitted is easier and smoother. We therefore hope that the spotlight Alzheimer's Research UK has put on hearing loss and dementia will be a catalyst for further exploration on the links between the two conditions for the hearing impaired" continued Surridge.
Alzheimer's Research UK's Dr. Mitchell added: "It is well established that hearing instruments have a beneficial effect on a person's ability to take part in everydav life and we know they may help to reduce the risk of dementia. Research must continue so we can get a firmer grasp on the benefits of hearing aids and their impact on dementia risk."
Courtesy of Alzheimer's Research UK Dr Susan Mitchell, Head of Policy at Alzheimer's Research UK: Research must continue so we can get a firmer grasp on the benefits of hearing aids and their impact on dementia risk.
"But going on what we know today, it is essential that any perceived barriers to getting a hearing check are minimised, ensuring that people can access one at every opportunity. Alzheimer's Research UK believes that integrating a hearing check within the NHS Health Check, freely available for over 40s in England, is one potential way to do this."
BIHIMA is making similar calls to healthcare services and believes that hearing health should be prioritised just as much as eye health. The industry body is currently supporting primary care providers and audiologists with a new campaign encouraging patients to get their hearing checked sooner.
"We know that one of the biggest challenges stopping people from getting the hearing care that they need is awareness - they don't believe that anything can be done to improve their hearing, so they learn to live with it. We hope that this campaign will reach as many people in the community as possible, encouraging them to take that first step to help their hearing and, as a result, improve their prospects for the future," affirmed Surridge.
BIHIMA represents the hearing instrument manufacturers of Britain and Ireland, working in partnership with other professional, trade, regulatory and consumer organisations within the health care and charitable sectors. We raise consumer awareness about the latest hearing technology and aim to influence government and policy makers to improve the lives of people with hearing difficulties.