Following BIHIMA’s round table event last month, on the link between hearing loss and dementia, we welcome The Ear Foundation’s new report on the subject.

The Ear Foundation has published a new briefing on the latest state of understanding about the links between cognitive decline, dementia and hearing loss. The aim of the briefing is to help health planners and commissioners to better understand how to support people to age well by looking after their hearing health.

The review, which consulted with leading experts in the field, a number of whom attended BIHIMA’s round table event, found that as the ageing population increases, the growing numbers of those with hearing loss, cognitive decline and dementia are leading to urgent public health and social issues. Over 60% of adults living with dementia will also have hearing impairment and over 90% of adults living with dementia in aged care will have hearing impairment.

The briefing found emerging evidence into hearing care as a key part of healthy ageing. It reviews evidence which suggests that the prompt use of hearing technology such as hearing aids and cochlear implants can help reduce cognitive decline.  Hearing loss is believed to directly increase the risk of cognitive decline and dementia through the effects of hearing loss on the brain and social isolation.  Livingstone et al in The Lancet (2017) concluded that mid life and late-life hearing loss may account for up to 9.1% of preventable dementia cases worldwide and is one of the most potentially modifiable risk factors for dementia.

Hearing loss impairs communication, has been linked to reduced social support from others and loneliness which, in turn, could increase health risks. More specifically, communication and social connectedness are critical to brain health helping to address dementia and maintain cognitive abilities. Investing in hearing loss presents major opportunities for health systems to invest in healthy aging and for the public to take action about their hearing, particularly as they age. Hearing well matters.

Paul Surridge, Chairman of BIHIMA said, “We commend the authors’ recommendations to improve screening for hearing loss in middle age, to make hearing well a public health priority and to ensure better assessment and hearing support for those with dementia. We welcomed the Ear Foundation’s valuable contribution at our event in March, as we believe that only by working together can the connection between hearing loss and cognitive decline be addressed.”

Download the full report here.