Hearing Aids Could Dramatically Reduce Dementia Risk

3 min read

April 14, 2023 – For adults with hearing loss, using hearing aids could reduce the risk of developing dementia by 42%, a new study suggests.

Experts say they hope the findings, published Thursday in the The Lancet Public Health, will convince more people who need a hearing aid to use one.

Study results indicate that people with hearing loss who do not use hearing aids have an overall 1.7% risk of developing dementia. By using a hearing aid, they can reduce their risk to the same level experienced by people who do not have any hearing loss, which is 1.2%.

“The evidence is building that hearing loss may be the most impactful modifiable risk factor for dementia in mid-life, but the effectiveness of hearing aid use on reducing the risk of dementia in the real world has remained unclear,” said researcher Dongshan Zhu, PhD, a professor at China’s Shandong University, in a statement. “Our study provides the best evidence to date to suggest that hearing aids could be a minimally invasive, cost-effective treatment to mitigate the potential impact of hearing loss on dementia.” 

To conduct the study, researchers analyzed data for 437,704 people from the United Kingdom who self-reported whether they had hearing loss. Researchers then looked at an average of 12 years of follow-up data for each person to see if someone received a dementia diagnosis according to hospital or death records.

The average age of people in the study was 56 years old, and 54% were women. About 1 in 4 people reported having hearing loss, but just 12% of them used hearing aids. 

The positive impact of using a hearing aid reduced the risk for developing any type of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, which is the most common type. The CDC estimates that 5.8 million people in the U.S. have dementia, which is a general term that refers to an impaired ability to remember, think, or make decisions that is so severe it interferes with daily activities.

Last year, the FDA began allowing hearing aids to be sold over the counter and online without a prescription. The agency said its goal was to make hearing aids more affordable so more of the estimated 30 million adults who could benefit from the use of a hearing aid would use one. Over-the-counter models range in price from a few hundred dollars to over $2,000. 

In a commentary published alongside the study, two experts from University College London noted that because people self-reported hearing loss, the impairment may be undercounted because many people don’t realize they have a problem. Also, people “who use hearing aids might have better access to financial, social, or cognitive resources to look after their health compared with those with hearing loss without hearing aids,” wrote Gill Livingston, MD, and Sergi Costafreda, MD, PhD, both of the college’s division of psychiatry.

They called the new findings “compelling.”

“This is the time to increase awareness of and detection of hearing loss, as well as the acceptability and usability of hearing aids,” they wrote.

Show Sources

The Lancet Public Health: “Association between hearing aid use and all-cause and cause-specific dementia: an analysis of the UK Biobank cohort,” “Hearing aids may protect against a higher risk of dementia associated with hearing loss, study suggests,” “Preventing dementia through correcting hearing: huge progress but more to do.”

CDC: “Alzheimer's Disease and Healthy Aging.”

FDA: “Hearing Aids.”

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