Looking after your hearing and using hearing technology such as hearing aids could make a world of difference in preventing or delaying dementia.

An estimated 487,500 Australians are living with dementia, a figure that’s expected to rise to over one million people by 2058.4

“With someone being diagnosed with dementia every three seconds, prevention should be top of mind for all of us,” said Emma Rushbrooke, Director of Clinical Governance, Research and Training at Hear and Say.

Lady Holding Cochlear Implant

“Research indicates there are 12 risk factors that could lead to dementia,8 including education, hypertension, hearing loss, smoking, obesity, depression, physical activity, diabetes, social contact, alcohol consumption and traumatic brain injury,” said Emma.

These risk factors account for about 40 per cent of dementia cases around the world8 highlighting the potential to prevent or delay dementia for a significant proportion of the world’s population.

“One in two people know someone impacted by hearing loss yet a recent market research survey Hear and Say undertook found that 84 per cent of people did not know, or were unsure, if there was a link between hearing loss and dementia,” said Emma.

“Of all the risk factors of dementia, hearing loss can have the greatest impact for those aged 45 to 65 when treated,8” she said.

“On the flip side, when left untreated, hearing loss can significantly influence health and wellbeing.”

“We commonly hear that people tend to avoid social outings and conversations altogether when hearing becomes difficult, which often leads to social isolation, anxiety and eventual loss of independence,” she said.

Additionally, untreated hearing loss can lead to auditory deprivation, which simply put is when the brain loses its ability to process sounds, including speech, because of a lack of auditory stimulation.   

“It’s the brain that hears, the ears are just the pathway in. To avoid auditory deprivation we recommend you stay on top of your hearing, and if you’re diagnosed with a hearing loss wearing hearing aids can help to ensure your brain gets as much stimulation as possible,” said Emma.

Five tips for looking after your hearing and wellbeing

  • Prevention is key! Know the 12 modifiable risks of dementia (with hearing loss being a key factor) and work to eliminate or reduce these factors wherever possible.
  • Check your hearing. Add an annual hearing test to your regular health check-ups to stay on top of your hearing and mental health.
  • Look after your hearing. Noise-induced hearing loss is preventable. Avoid excessively loud situations wherever possible and wear protective headphones and earplugs as needed.
  • Use hearing aids. If you’re diagnosed with hearing loss, act quickly and use hearing aids to prevent auditory deprivation and reduce the risk of dementia.
  • Stay social. Maintain a good social life, catch up with friends and family regularly – if you find yourself starting to lean towards staying home, may it’s time for a hearing test
Img Lady Chatting To Man

Dementia affects many people, not just the person with the diagnosis – the impact on the world’s economy is estimated to be about one trillion US dollars.8

“Investigating and implementing national policies around access to education, causes and management of high blood pressure, hearing loss, and obesity could be instrumental in reducing the risk of dementia for many countries,” said Emma.

Looking closer to home, at Hear and Say we know it takes a team to support a child, family or individual impacted by hearing loss – providing a holistic health service is vital to achieving optimal outcomes.

“Simply giving someone hearing technology doesn’t mean that they can effectively use it. It takes time for the brain to get used to new sounds it may have forgotten about – not to mention getting used to wearing them.

“Depending on the length of time someone has gone without hearing, we may also need to train the brain to hear through the new device, a process called auditory learning,” said Emma.

“With several studies finding that there are increased cases of dementia for people with hearing loss but not for those who use hearing aids,2,8,9 it is vital that people feel supported and comfortable in using their hearing technology.”

Hear and Say is Queensland’s not-for-profit hearing provider, here to help anyone with hearing loss, to find out how we can support you or a loved one please get in touch.

References and further reading

  1. Alzheimer’s Disease International. (2020). About Alzheimer’s & Dementia. https://www.alzint.org/about/
  2. Amieva, H., Ouvard, C., Meillon, C., Ruillier, L., & Dartigues, J.F. (2018). Death, Depression, Disability, and Dementia Associated with Self-Reported Hearing Problems: A 25-Year Study. The Journals of Gerontology: Series A, 73(10), 1383-1389.
  3. Deal, J.A., Betz, J., Yaffe, , Harris, T., Purchase-Helzner, E., Satterfield, S., Pratt, S., Govil, N., Simonisk, C., E.M., & Lin, F.R. (2017). Hearing impairment and incident dementia and cognitive decline in older adults: The Health ABC Study. The Journal of Gerontology: Series A, 72(5), 703-709.  
  4. Dementia Australia. (2022). Dementia in Australia: Prevalence Estimates 2019-2058. https://www.dementia.org.au/sites/default/files/documents/2019-2058-Dementia-prevalence-S-T.pdf
  5. Hubbard HI, Mamo SK, Hopper T. (2018). Dementia and Hearing Loss: Interrelationships and Treatment Considerations. Semin Speech Lang. 2018 Jul;39(3):197-210.
  6. Lin FR, Yaffe K, Xia J, Xue QL, Harris TB, Purchase-Helzner E, Satterfield S, Ayonayon HN, Ferrucci L, Simonsick EM; Health ABC Study Group (2013). Hearing loss and cognitive decline in older adults. JAMA Intern Med. Feb 25;173(4):293-9.
  7. Lin, F.R., Metter, E.J., O’Brien, R.J., Resnick, S.M., Zonderman, A.B., & Ferrucci, L. (2011). Hearing Loss and Incident Dementia. Archives of Neurology, 68(2), 214-220.
  8. Livingstone, G., Huntley, J., Sommerlad, A., Ames, D., Ballard, C., Banerjee, S. (2020). Dementia Prevention, Intervention, and Care: 2020 Report of the Lancet Commission. The Lancet Commissions, 396(10248), 413-446.
  9. Ray, J., Popli, G., & Fell, G. (2018). Association of Cognition and Age-Related Hearing Impairment in the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing. JAMA Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery, 144(10), 876-882.
  10. Su, P., Hsu, C.C., Lin, H.C., Huang, W.S., Yang, T.L., Hsu, W.T., Lin, C.L., Hsu, C.Y., Chang, K.H., & Hsu, Y.C. (2017). Age-Related Hearing Loss and Dementia: a 10-year National Population-Based Study. European Archives of Oto-Rhino-Laryngology, 274(2), 2327-2334.
  11. Thomson, R.S., Auduong, P., Miller, A.T., & Gurgel, R.K. (2017). Hearing Loss as a Risk Factor for Dementia: A Systematic Review. Laryngoscope Investigative Otolaryngology, 2(2), 69-79.
  12. Weinstein, B.E. (2018). A Primer on Dementia and Hearing Loss. Perspectives of the ASHA Special Interest Groups 3(6):18.
  13. Zheng, T., Fan, S., Liao, W., Fang, W., Xiao, S., Liu, J. (2017). Hearing Impairment and Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease: A Meta-Analysis of Prospective Cohort Studies. Neurological Sciences, 38(2), 233-239.
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