UK researchers may have discovered a relatively simple and inexpensive way of preventing dementia: hearing aids.
According to a study published in The Lancet earlier this month, people with hearing impairments who don't use a hearing aid have a higher risk of developing dementia than people with normal hearing.
Both the risk of dementia and hearing loss increase with age. According to the publication, by 2050 an estimated 150 million people worldwide will be affected by dementia.
Hearing loss important risk factor for dementia
Hearing loss is associated with 8% of global cases of dementia, making it the greatest modifiable risk factor for dementia, according to research published in JAMA Network.
The researchers of the new study agree, describing hearing aids as a minimally invasive and cost-effective treatment to reduce the risk of dementia.
For the study, the scientists surveyed data from almost 440,000 people from the UK Biobank, which contains biomedical data from around half a million people.
About a quarter of the subjects surveyed had hearing impairments, but only 11.4% of them used a hearing aid.
Hearing aid users had no higher risk of dementia in its various forms, including Alzheimer's, compared to those with normal hearing.
However, risk of dementia increased by 42% for those with hearing impairments who did not use a hearing aid.
The researchers also examined whether factors such as loneliness, social isolation or depressive symptoms could have an impact on the correlation between hearing loss and dementia.
But improvements in individual psychological and social situations had little effect on the connection between dementia and hearing loss, which is why the researchers suspect that it must be the hearing aid itself that offers some form of protection.
Other factors possible
As this is a purely observational study, researchers are unaware of the potential underlying neurological mechanisms that could explain the link between hearing loss and dementia.
It is also possible that the connection could be explained by other factors. For example: maybe people who use a hearing aid pay more attention to their health overall, keeping them at a lower risk of dementia for many reasons not necessarily associated with their hearing aid.
On the other hand, this is not the first study to find a link between the use of hearing aids and a reduced risk of dementia.
Regardless, one thing seems clear: A hearing aid probably does no harm.
This article was edited from German to English.