By Phoebe Southworth16 February 2021
Hearing aids can stave off dementia in hard of hearing patients for five years, a study has suggested.
A third of over-50s who wore a hearing aid had not developed the condition five years after they were diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), researchers found.
In contrast, 81 per cent of those who did not wear hearing aids were found to have dementia.
This is the first study to investigate the link between hearing aids and progression to dementia in individuals with MCI – those with memory difficulties but not classified as suffering from dementia.
Some people diagnosed with MCI will go on to develop dementia, some will remain stable over time and a few people will improve and no longer have any problems.
Scientists say the findings are an “important first step” in supporting a move to encourage people with hearing loss who are at risk of dementia to wear hearing aids.
The researchers looked at 2,114 hearing-impaired patients over the age of 50 from the National Alzheimer’s Co-ordinating Centre.
The percentage of participants who had not developed dementia five years after their MCI diagnosis was 19 per cent for non-users of hearing aids and 33 per cent for those using hearing aids.
Overall, using a hearing aid was associated with a slowing of the conversion from MCI to dementia by an average of two years.
Dr Magda Bucholc, of Ulster University, said that while it might be considered a “modest finding”, the overall benefits to public health could be significant.
“In my opinion, given there is no disease-modifying treatment for dementia, even a small beneficial effect of hearing loss treatment in delaying the disease can have significant implications for public health,” she said.
“In fact, studies show that delaying the onset of dementia by even two years would have substantial economic and societal effects.”
The research was published in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia: Translational Research & Clinical Interventions.
Dr Ralph Holme, executive director of research at the national hearing loss charity RNID, said: “It is well established that hearing loss is associated with an increased risk of dementia, and this new research supports the growing view that the use of hearing aids may help slow its onset.
“Further research is needed to definitively show this, but clearly taking early action to address your hearing loss can only be a good thing. RNID is helping to fund vital research to understand why hearing loss and dementia are linked.”