Recent findings published in the Canadian Journal on Aging suggests that hearing check-ups should be part of normal assessments for dementia and cognitive decline, because symptoms that might look like memory loss could actually be explained by hearing problems.

The survey found that 56% of participants evaluated for memory loss and potential brain disorders had some form of mild to severe hearing loss, but only about 20% of individuals used hearing aids. Among the participants, a quarter of them did not show any signs of memory loss due to a brain disorder.

One of the authors, the clinical neuropsychologist, Dr Susan Vandermorris, argues that hearing loss is often mistaken for memory loss: “Sometimes addressing hearing loss may mitigate or fix what looks like a memory issue. An individual isn’t going to remember something said to them if they didn’t hear it properly.”

These observations about confusion between the two conditions follow on from an increasing body of evidence which shows that hearing loss is a leading modifiable risk factor for dementia and that treating it may be one way people can reduce the risk. BIHIMA has been active in raising awareness of this link and in calling for more research to establish the benefits of hearing aids in tackling the problem.

As part of this campaign, BIHIMA will be hosting a Dementia and Hearing Loss Round Table event on 28 February at Royal College of General Practitioners, which will bring together experts in the field to progress our understanding of this vital area and further the mission for greater public awareness.

This latest research from Canada shows once again that the connection between hearing loss and cognitive decline cannot be ignored. Rather, a preventative approach involves greater collaboration between cognitive and audiological sciences. “We are starting to learn more about the important role hearing plays in the brain health of our aging population,” says Dr Kate Dupuis, the lead author of the study. “It is imperative that neuropsychologists and hearing care professionals work together to address the common occurrence of both cognitive and hearing loss in individuals.”

See the BIHIMA archive for further information about the connection between hearing loss and cognitive decline:

University of Manchester study on the role of hearing aids in cognitive decline

Australian study of 38,000 older adults into dementia and hearing loss

Exploring the possible reasons for hearing loss as a cause of cognitive decline

NICE guidelines say dementia is five times more likely in people with severe hearing loss

University of Bordeaux long term study into the link between hearing loss and depression, disability and dementia

Lancet report names hearing loss as the most significant modifiable risk factor in developing dementia