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Study suggests hearing aids may delay dementia

Posted Jun 13 2011 7:29pm

The head of Suffolk’s biggest hearing care company has welcomed the news that researchers in the United States are investigating a theory that there may be a connection between untreated hearing loss and dementia.

The US study followed more than 600 men and women over an average of 12 years and 9 percent developed some type of dementia during the study, most commonly Alzheimer's disease.

Those with mild hearing loss had nearly twice the chance of developing dementia compared to people with normal hearing - even after ruling out the influence of age and other factors. The risk increased three-fold for those with moderate hearing loss and five-fold for severe impairment.

This July marks the start of Dementia Awareness Week (3rd-9th July), organised by the Alzheimer’s Society.

Karen Finch, a hearing aid audiologist and managing director of The Hearing Care Centre, in Ipswich, says although on the face of it, this might seem like tragic news, it does mean that if people own up to their hearing loss and seek help, perhaps one contributory risk could be removed.

She went on: “There is already published work which demonstrates that people who don’t hear well, and do nothing about it, become withdrawn and can suffer from ill health including depression, and though the results don't prove hearing loss causes the mental decline by itself, they do fuel hopes that wider use of hearing aids might help stem the rising tide of dementia.

One in seven people in the UK suffers from hearing loss but many don’t do anything about it. Karen points out that untreated hearing loss means people invariably keep missing parts of conversations, especially when they are with a group in a noisy environment such as a busy restaurant.

“They can’t take a full part of the discussions because often they aren’t sure they understand what has already been said, so they opt out. Friends and relatives describe how they seem to be in a world of their own, and it’s true, they are.”

Karen, who’s a leading member of her professional body, the British Society of Hearing Aid Audiologists, has been campaigning for years to get people in Suffolk to have their hearing tested on a regular basis.

“People are resistant because they see hearing loss as a marker that they are growing old,” she says, “but hearing loss can be caused by a number of other things including exposure to loud noise, working for years in a noisy environment or even by drugs prescribed for illness.” Karen added that most people didn’t think twice about having their eyesight tested and it was her ambition to make hearing tests just as normal an occurance.

The research was published in the Archives of Neurology.

Click here for more information on the study’s findings.

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