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New Study Names Hearing Loss as One of Nine Risk Factors for Dementia

by Debbie Clason by Healthy Hearing

August 22, 2017 - Managing hearing loss may be one way to help lower your risk of dementia, according to a new report by the Lancet Commissions on Dementia Prevention, Intervention and Care. The report identified nine age-related risk factors for developing dementia. They include:

  • Before the age of 18: Level of education
  • Between the ages of 45-65: hypertension, obesity and hearing loss
  • Over the age of 65: smoking, depression, inactivity, social isolation and diabetes

What is dementia?

Dementia is a general term used to describe severe memory loss and other mental abilities typically affecting individuals 65 years of age and older. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia.

According to the Lancet Commissions, approximately 47 million people worldwide were living with dementia in 2015 at an estimated cost of $818 billion. Nearly 85 percent of that figure is related to non-medical costs, such as those affecting family and society. Experts estimate the number of cases of individuals living with dementia will increase to 66 million by 2030 and 131 million by 2050. The report was presented at the 2017 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference.

Dementia is a debilitating condition affecting individuals as well as their family members. People with dementia are twice as likely to be hospitalized than their cognitively healthy peers, according to a study by University of Washington researchers. Additionally, a March 2017 report by the Alzheimer’s Association indicates that of the 15 million Americans providing physical, emotional and financial support for family members with dementia, 35 percent will themselves suffer health-related issues as a result.

Dementia prevention

Can dementia be prevented? Possibly. The Lancet Commissions report suggests as many as one third of all dementia cases may be delayed or prevented by eliminating some of the risk factors -- specifically, active treatment of hypertension in middle and old age, as well as increasing childhood education, exercise and social engagement, reducing smoking, and managing hearing loss, depression, diabetes, and obesity.

How to manage hearing loss

Managing hearing loss is part of adopting an emotionally, physically and mentally healthy lifestyle. In addition to dementia, untreated hearing loss has been linked to increased risk for depression and social isolation as well as an indicator of other medical conditions such as hypertension, heart disease and diabetes.

Preserve your hearing

The National Institutes on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) estimates more than 40 million Americans have noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL), the most preventable type of hearing loss. Reduce the risk of developing NIHL by turning down the volume on personal electronic devices and wearing hearing protection whenever you know you’ll be exposed to noisy environments. Don't forget to be prepared for even the unexpected hearing hazards that may be part of your life.

Schedule regular hearing evaluations

Make an appointment with a qualified hearing healthcare professional to have your hearing evaluated. Ask your physician for a referral or search the Healthy Hearing Find a Professional directory to find a hearing center in your community.

Just as many adults are diligent about getting yearly physicals, it is good practice to schedule a hearing test each year. Once you have a baseline audiogram, you and your hearing health provider can closely watch for changes and take action if and when necessary.

Treat your hearing loss

Although our ears collect the sound, it’s our brain which makes sense of all the noise. If you are diagnosed with hearing loss and hearing aids are recommended, don’t delay treatment. Today’s hearing devices are discreet, comfortable and connect to the latest technology. Not only will you be able to hear better, recent research indicates your brain will be healthier, too.

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