Could hearing aids help reduce the risk of dementia?

According to researchers, hearing aids could help reduce the risk of dementia. 

The study, which was published in The Lancet public health journal, explored the link between hearing aid use and dementia.

Participants were all adults aged 40–69 years and were examined over a ten-year period. 

The results showed that those without hearing aids who exhibited signs of hearing loss had an increased risk of dementia. 

On the other hand, those who also had a hearing impairment but wore hearing aids showed no increased risk of dementia. 

“The evidence is building that hearing loss may be the most impactful modifiable risk factor for dementia in mid-life, but the effectiveness of hearing aid use on reducing the risk of dementia in the real world has remained unclear,” says Prof Dongshan Zhu, of Shandong University, China.

“Our study provides the best evidence to date to suggest that hearing aids could be a minimally invasive, cost-effective treatment to mitigate the potential impact of hearing loss on dementia.”

It is not yet fully understood why there is an association between hearing loss and dementia, but previous research has shown that people with severe hearing loss are five times more likely to develop the condition. 

This is why wearing a hearing aid before your hearing declines has the potential to delay the onset of dementia.

Some theorists have suggested that the connection between hearing loss and dementia is down to the additional ‘brain power’ it takes to increase your listening effort. With the help of a hearing aid, less strain is placed on the brain; thus delaying cognitive decline. 

Robert Howard, professor of old age psychiatry, at University College London says: “This is a large and well-conducted study, but we should always remember that association is not the same as causation.”

“I’m sceptical that the use of hearing aids can be considered to prevent dementia. It seems more plausible to me that the association reflects that individuals on their way to developing dementia struggle to take up or use hearing aids.

“But hearing aids are important in reducing isolation and increasing quality of life, so we should encourage their use anyway.”