Treating hearing loss may help prevent dementia

By Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

A recent Canadian newspaper article discussing a report in The Lancet, the premier British medical journal, about preventing dementia.

The Lancet article highlights the importance of treating hearing loss for possibly preventing dementia. If you’re interested in dementia, know someone with dementia, or want to see what you can do to avoid developing dementia yourself, I recommend the Lancet article. It summarizes a large body of research in a readable fashion that should be accessible even to the lay reader.

There are many factors correlated with dementia risk, including genes, blood lipid levels, and diseases or conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, obesity, and factors such as social isolation and cigarette smoking. The association between hearing loss and dementia is well-known and research is under way to see if treating hearing loss reduces the risk of dementia. Despite only correlations, and no clear understanding of how hearing loss may increase the risk, the Lancet authors think the scientific evidence is strong enough to recommend treatment of hearing loss as a possible prevention measure for dementia.

Of course, the only treatment for hearing loss is hearing aids, with cochlear implants reserved for the more severely impaired. We think that people with hearing loss should use hearing aids just to be able to hear others, whether hearing aids prevent dementia or not.

That said, hearing aids are a poor substitute for preserved natural hearing.

Perhaps the Lancet article should have gone a step further and highlighted the importance of preventing noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) to delay or avoid the onset of dementia. After all, we think it’s significantly better to prevent NIHL than to treat it, and that’s simple: avoid exposure to loud noise or wear ear protection when you cannot.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He serves on the board of the American Tinnitus Association, is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’s Health Advisory Council, and is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America.

Comments (2)

  1. Jan L. Mayes

    One of the deeper problems is that society has never recognized that most hearing loss is bilateral. Two hearing aids are not covered by most health or insurance plans. Even though risk of dementia from unaided hearing loss is proven. When people get one hearing aid, they lose word understanding ability in the unaided ear as well as dementia issue. People have two eyes. They get eyeglasses. Not monocles. People have two ears. It’s 2017. Two hearing aids should also be considered standard. But right now probably not the best timing for a health care issue. Two hearing aids to lower dementia risk back to average still a luxury.

    1. GMB (Post author)

      Hearing aids are not covered by Medicare in the U.S. That’s right–Medicare does not cover ears, eyes, and teeth, three things that, if they were covered, would drastically improve the quality of life of older people. One hopes that future generations will address this or, better yet, reduce the noise around them so that hearing aids aren’t as necessary. But yes, noise causes hearing loss which, if untreated, can increase one’s dementia risk. It’s criminal that governments aren’t doing everything they can to address hearing loss, then, which would save far more money than ignoring the problem and increasing the impact of dementia on lives and the treasury.


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