Dementia can have a devastating effect on sufferers and their families, but scientists are still trying to understand exactly why and how it develops, and as yet there is no cure.
One of the latest discoveries is that hearing loss could be an early sign of the disease, with researchers at Trinity College Dublin finding an association between age-related hearing loss (ARHL) and the development of dementia.
In a review of over 20,000 participants, ARHL was linked to decline in a number of areas of cognitive functioning, including episodic memory and a slower processing speed. Previous studies have shown that hearing loss precedes the onset of dementia by five to 10 years.
As a result of the study, experts say that a hearing aid could help prevent dementia by improving verbal communication and keeping the brain healthy. David Loughrey, a PhD candidate who worked on the research, told the Daily Mail:
“Hearing loss is easily diagnosed and can be treated. Although associations were small, treatment may cumulatively benefit cognition.”
Dr Carol Routledge, director of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK said there may be a link between hearing loss and dementia, but the lack of mental stimulation experienced by those who are hard of hearing may also play a role. She said:
“This small but statistically robust association between hearing loss and a decline in memory skills adds to mounting evidence of a link, but the study does not conclusively show that hearing loss is driving memory problems… Hearing loss is associated with dementia risk factors like heart disease, which could also be an underlying reason for the link observed in this study.”