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Hearing aids could prevent dementia

Boy from Africa holds a hearing aid in both hands

If your hearing is getting worse, a hearing aid can help. But not only the ears benefit: According to a new study, the hearing aid could also prevent dementia.

It is quite possible that researchers from Great Britain have discovered a relatively simple and comparatively inexpensive way of preventing dementia: with hearing aids.

According to the study, published in the specialist journal Lancet, people with hearing impairments have a higher risk of developing dementia if they don’t use a hearing aid than people with normal hearing. 

Both the risk of dementia and hearing loss increase with age. According to the publication, by 2050 an estimated 150 million people worldwide will be affected by dementia.

Hearing loss is associated with 8 percent of global cases of dementia, according to a  research letter published in the specialist portal JAMA Network. This makes hearing the greatest modifiable risk factor for dementia.

The researchers of the new study agree and describe hearing aids as a minimally invasive and cost-effective treatment to reduce the risk of dementia. 

For their study, the scientists looked at the data of almost 440,000 people from the UK Biobank, in which biomedical data is collected from around half a million people. About a quarter of the subjects had hearing impairments. Only 11.4 percent of these people used a hearing aid.

Compared to those with normal hearing, hearing aid users did not have a higher risk of dementia in its various forms, including Alzheimer’s. The risk increased by 42 percent for those with hearing impairments who did not use such a device – also compared to the group without hearing loss.

The researchers also examined whether factors such as loneliness, social isolation, or depressive symptoms could have an impact on the correlation between hearing loss and dementia. However, the improvement in the psychological and social situation had little effect on the connection between dementia and hearing loss, which is why the researchers suspect that it must be the hearing aid itself that offers some form of protection.

As this is a purely observational study, researchers are unaware of the potential underlying neurological mechanisms that could explain the link between hearing loss and dementia.

It is also possible that the connection could be explained by other factors, for example, because people who use a hearing aid pay more attention to their health in other areas and thus reduce further risk factors for dementia.

On the other hand, this is not the first study to find a link between the use of hearing aids and a reduced risk of dementia. It seems certain: A hearing aid does no harm.

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