The World Health Organisation (WHO) has just published new guidelines to reduce the risk of cognitive decline and dementia, which names hearing loss as one of the key risk factors.

The document lists 12 recommendations in total to combat the rise of dementia (a condition which now affects around 50 million people globally, a figure set to triple by 2050), including weight management, treatment of hypertension and diabetes, and nutritional intervention. BIHIMA is delighted to see that ‘management of hearing loss’ appears on the list.

The guidelines cite some of the recent scientific evidence which link hearing loss and cognitive decline, including the seminal Lancet study which showed that mid-life hearing loss may account for up to 9.1% of preventable dementia cases worldwide and is a modifiable risk factor in developing the condition (Livingston et al – Lancet, 2018).

The WHO guidance goes further to recommend the use of hearing technology in older adults with hearing loss, stating that “Screening followed by provision of hearing aids should be offered to older people for timely identification and management of hearing loss.”

However, the document stops short of an overarching recommendation of hearing devices for all those at risk of cognitive decline, stating that “There is insufficient evidence to recommend use of hearing aids to reduce the risk of cognitive decline and/or dementia.”

BIHIMA has long been calling for greater research into this vital area so that the role of hearing technology can be properly assessed and its power can be fully harnessed in the fight against dementia.

At a round table hosted by BIHIMA earlier this year, which brought together experts in this field, the main outcome was a call to policy makers to make this area of research a funding priority. We restate this call in response to these important WHO guidelines.

See here to read the WHO report in full.