Tag Archive: New Zealand

New Zealand researchers agree: hearing loss is probably a dementia risk factor

By Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Many people don’t understand the process of medical and scientific research and how different hypotheses are developed and tested, using different methods in different human populations with animal studies when possible, until a consensus is reached. This was how researchers–including doctors, epidemiologists, researchers using animal models, and scientists doing basic research at the cellular, molecular, and genetic levels–figured out that cigarette smoke causes cancer and many other diseases, and how it does this. Despite the broad scientific and public health consensus, there are still skeptics, such as those at the conservative Heartland Institute, who say there is still doubt about whether smoking causes lung cancer. There is also a Flat Earth Society. Many Americans think that evolution is an unproven theory despite more than a century of research and strong evidence supporting evolution.

For the rest of us who believe in evidence-based science and evidence-based social and economic policies, our understanding of reality is always evolving based on the evidence. Sometimes something long thought to be true is found not to be correct after all. In medicine, one of the best examples may be ulcers in the stomach and small intestine, which for decades were thought to be caused by too much stomach acid but were found to be caused by bacteria. Australians Barry Marshall and J. Robin Warren won the Nobel Prize in 2005 for making this discovery. But most of the time an early hypothesis is confirmed by one study, and then another, and then by studies in animal models, and then by basic science research, until a broad consensus is reached.

This is what is happening with the hypothesis that hearing loss is associated, probably causally, with dementia. Dr. Frank Lin at Johns Hopkins University may be the best-known researcher in this field but other researchers in other countries are studying the same question. This report from New Zealand discusses what is being done there. And this report from the UK discusses research presented there.

It’s always good to have confirmation of research by different researchers using different techniques in different populations. Such confirmation helps validate initial findings in one population and helps move our understanding forward. We know that noise exposure causes hearing loss. If hearing loss is shown to be causally associated with the development of dementia, then preventing hearing loss should help to also prevent dementia. One theory is that the brain needs input to maintain function, and without auditory input and/or social connections, brain function declines. Another theory is that whatever degenerative process causes hearing loss also causes loss of mental function. Ongoing studies, providing hearing aids to those with hearing loss but not to others and then measuring intellectual function over time, may elucidate the cause-effect relationship. Regardless, we don’t need to wait for more evidence for the link. Preserving one’s hearing should be enough reason to avoid loud noise or to wear ear plugs if you can’t.

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.

Organization calls for elimination of canned music:

Lisa Packer, staff writer at Healthy Hearing, writes about Pipedown, an organization started almost 25 years ago in the UK by Nigel Rodgers who committed himself to stopping the ubiquitous assault of canned music in every public space.  We wrote about Pipedown UK’s victory this summer when Marks & Spencer, the UK’s biggest chain store, agreed to stop playing muzak in their stores.  Parker interviewed Rodgers about the evils of canned music, which Rodgers says is “mood-conditioning by business, trying to manipulate us into buying or doing what it wants.”  He added that the constant over-stimulation “leaves us afraid of silence.”

Parker examines why businesses bombard us with music (short answer: to make money faster, of course), and cites noted noise activist Dr. Daniel Fink, who notes the misuse of the 85 dB occupational standard as a standard for the general public and the lack of federal safe noise standards for public places.  Despite the effective noise regulation in the U.S., the article ends on a good note.  Parker looks at Pipedown’s continued efforts fight noise, writing:

With more than 1500 members in the UK and sister groups in Germany, Austria, New Zealand and the U.S., Pipedown is now taking its efforts to persuade retailers and other establishments to eliminate canned music to a world stage.

The going may be slow, but each victory brings us closer to a quieter world.

 

This is disturbing:

New Zealand library uses ‘mosquito’ noise device to keep youths away.

Long and short, a New Zealand library installed a noise device because of complaints by (presumably older) customers “about such issues as swearing, abuse, standover tactics and intimidating behaviour.”  The device in question is marketed as an “ultrasonic teenage deterrent” that can be heard by anyone under the age of 25.  Apparently these devices have been used elsewhere because we are told that, “politicians in the UK call[ed] for a ban [of the devices], saying they are discriminatory towards young people, discourage group gatherings and may be harmful to hearing.”  And some children, particularly children with Down’s Syndrome or autism, are more sensitive to noise.

The idea of using weaponized noise to discourage teens from loitering outside a library is absolutely abhorrent.  Yes, some teens revel in anti-social behavior, but as one child’s librarian noted, “I find it very strange they have decided to use this device during opening hours when really we all need be encouraging children to read.”  We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.  There must be a better way of discouraging anti-social behavior than treating everyone under the age of 25 years as part of the problem.