Members of the British and Irish Hearing Instrument Manufacturers Association (BIHIMA) welcome a recent study in the Lancet which recommends acting now on dementia prevention and intervention and recognises hearing loss as one of the most significant modifiable risk factors in developing dementia.

The Lancet report has received national press coverage for its particular focus on mitigating, as well as treating, dementia – a condition which affects about 47 million people globally, a figure projected to triple by 2050.

It lists nine modifiable risk factors, hearing loss at the very top of the list. The study reports that eliminating Hearing loss is highly relevant to reducing new cases of dementia

BIHIMA thoroughly endorses this emphasis on prevention being better than cure and appreciates the report’s acknowledgement that this is an under-invested area of research, a fact which is even more remarkable given that hearing loss is now thought to be the greatest risk factor. “To our knowledge, no systematic reviews have been done for hearing loss and incident dementia,” the report says, and “recognition of hearing loss as a risk factor for dementia is relatively new and has not been included in previous calculations of PAF [population attributable fractions], nor has it been a priority in the management of those at risk of cognitive impairment.”

The report also acknowledges that there is still much work to be done to understand exactly why hearing loss can lead to dementia. It suggests that it “might add to the cognitive load of a vulnerable brain leading to changes in the brain, or lead to social disengagement or depression and accelerated atrophy, all of which could contribute to accelerated cognitive decline” but these conclusions also require further research.

Most significantly for our members, the report concedes that there is a lack of research into the role of hearing technology in the prevention of dementia: it is “not yet established”, it says, “whether correction, such as hearing aids, can prevent or delay the onset.” BIHIMA is concerned that this is an area that continues to be under-funded and under-researched and calls for further expedient investigation.

Dementia is one of the most pressing global health and social care challenges of the 21st century – “there should be no time wasted when it comes to quantifying the vital role hearing technology could play in managing it,” concluded BIHIMA chairman Paul Surridge.

Notes for editors:

– The Lancet report can be read in full here.

– BIHIMA has been at the forefront of the campaign to raise awareness about the link between hearing loss and dementia and called on policy makers earlier this year to give it the attention it warrants (see here.)

– BIHIMA represents the hearing instrument manufacturers of Britain and Ireland, working in partnership with other professional, trade, regulatory and consumer organisations within the health care and charitable sectors. We raise consumer awareness about the latest hearing technology, and aim to influence government and policy makers to improve the lives of people with hearing difficulties.