Research in the past regarding the risk to obtain dementia has attributed 2/3 risk due to family history and genetics which leaves 1/3 of the risk to modifiable factors. The Lancet Commission of Dementia Prevention recently reported that midlife hearing loss, even mild in severity, provides a 9% greater risk of acquiring dementia. That risk was greater than hypertension, diabetes, smoking, obesity, and depression. The Commission reported people should have their hearing evaluated during their midlife (45-65 years old), and if diagnosed with a hearing loss, treating it with hearing aids could reduce a person’s risk of developing dementia.
A recent theory regarding hearing loss causing dementia is being researched. Dr. Will Sedley, from New Castle University’s Faculty of Medical Sciences has said “The memory system engaged in difficult listening is the most common site for onset of Alzheimer’s disease”. One of their theories is the possible promotion of abnormal proteins that causes Alzheimer’s. Due to hearing loss and its well-researched negative effect on the brain, these proteins may be produced due to changes in brain activity resulting in the possibility of triggering Alzheimer’s. Another hypothesis is that there is an increased load on cognitive processing from poor sensory inputs. Essentially, the brain works much harder to process sound, taking over other areas of executive function, which then may lead to further cognitive decline*.
As more and more future research is developed regarding this topic, there are life changes that can be made right now within ourselves and our families to help reduce the presence of hearing loss in the first place. 1. Wear ear protection around all loud noises (lawn mowers, snow blowers, farm equipment, hunting, etc) and begin wearing them as a child throughout our lives. 2. Have your hearing tested by midlife, and if hearing loss has been diagnosed, utilize amplification to stimulate your brain and improve your quality of life at the same time.
We have one brain and one life, let us protect one to enjoy the other.
Livingston G, Huntley J, Sommerlad A. Dementia prevention, intervention, and care: 2020 report of the Lancet Commission. The Lancet. July 30, 2020.
Griffiths, et al. 2020 “How Can Hearing Loss Cause Dementia”
3JAMA Netw Open. 2022;5(5):e2210740. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2022.10740