The next time you can’t make out what the person next to you at a restaurant is saying, or can’t hear the waiter when it’s noisy on a flight, that might be your body telling you something: You could be losing your hearing – and it could lead to dementia. A long-term study found that people who report having difficulty hearing in noisy situations are more likely to develop dementia later on.
Researchers from the University of Oxford analyzed more than 82,000 men and women age 60 or older to rate their level of hearing in different settings. The researchers found that people who reported difficulties hearing in noisy environments were far more likely to develop dementia.
The study also suggests that hearing problems could trigger or exacerbate a dementia diagnosis. This is because noise-induced hearing loss can worsen with age. And while there’s no cure for early-onset hearing loss, there are ways to protect yourself from moderate to severe damage caused by noise-induced hazards. In previous studies, researchers have identified twelve major risk factors that increase your risk of developing a neurodegenerative condition. These factors include hearing impairment, physical inactivity and depression.
Although hearing loss has been linked to dementia risk in other studies as well, there is still a lack of understanding about what makes hearing loss such an important risk factor for cognitive decline. One of the most important things you can do is keep your hearing healthy. Whether through untreated hearing loss or exposure to excessive noise, damage to your hearing could increase your chances of developing dementia later in life because it can lead to neurotic changes in the brain.
“Whilst preliminary, these results suggest speech-in-noise hearing impairment could represent a promising target for dementia prevention,” concluded the author of the study, Thomas Littlejohns.