Hearing Loss and Dementia: Where to From Here?

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Victorian era psychologists were the first to comment on associations between sensory and cognitive function. More recently, hearing loss has been shown as a marker of risk for dementia. However, it is not known whether this association represents a causal impact of hearing loss, nor whether treating hearing loss may help prevent dementia. Most studies on relationships between hearing loss and cognitive outcomes are observational, are at risk of confounding, and cannot reach conclusions about causation. A recent high quality randomised controlled trial, relatively uncommon in audiology, reported no impact of a comprehensive hearing intervention in mitigating cognitive decline in older adults. Although secondary analysis revealed potential benefits in a sub-sample of adults, this finding may be spurious. Encouraging policy makers, patients, and other health care practitioners to address hearing loss in terms of dementia prevention may be inappropriate on the grounds of both relevance at individual level and lack of clear evidence of benefit. In addition, advocating need to address hearing loss in terms of mitigating dementia risk may reduce the importance of addressing hearing loss in its own right. Linking hearing loss to dementia risk may also exacerbate the stigma of hearing loss, inadvertently discouraging people from seeking help for hearing. We suggest that treating hearing loss may have important benefits in preventing or delaying diagnosis of dementia via improving orientation and functioning in daily life, without changing the underlying pathology. Rather than linking hearing loss to dementia risk, we suggest a positive message focusing on the known benefits of addressing hearing loss in terms of improved communication, quality of life and healthy aging.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEar and Hearing
Early online date21 Feb 2024
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 21 Feb 2024


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