Hard of hearing at greater risk of getting dementia

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Researchers analysed data from more than 82,000 people over 60 who had a hearing test. They were asked to identify spoken numbers against a backdrop of white noise. Those whose hearing was rated “insufficient” or “poor” were 61 and 91 percent more likely, respectively, to be diagnosed with dementia within 11 years.

Study author Dr Thomas Littlejohns, of the University of Oxford’s Nuffield Department of Population Health, said the findings suggest that treating hearing loss may help prevent dementia.

He said: “There is growing evidence that developing dementia is not inevitable and that the risk could be reduced by treating pre-existing conditions.”

The study used information from the UK BioBank, a database tracking the volunteers.

Experts are uncertain why people with hearing loss are at a higher risk of dementia. It has been suggested that hearing problems could lead to social isolation or depression, which increase the risk. 

But Dr Littlejohns said his study had found little evidence this was the case.

He said: “Another possibility is that hearing impairment increases demands on processing perceptual information which reduces cognitive capacity for other tasks.” 

Dr Katy Stubbs, from Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “This study suggests that hearing changes may not just be a symptom of dementia but a risk factor that could potentially be treated.”

The study is published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal Of The Alzheimer’s Association.

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