The National Health and Aging Trends Study from Johns Hopkins followed 2,413 community-dwelling participants aged 65 and older, and found that 10.3 percent suffered from dementia. Of those with dementia, 36.7 percent suffered mild hearing loss and and 29.8 percent had moderate to severe hearing loss (JAMA, Jan 11, 2023;329(2):171-173). The people with moderate to severe hearing loss were 61 percent more likely to suffer from dementia than those with normal hearing, and every 10-decibel loss of hearing was associated with a 16 percent increase in dementia risk. Mild hearing loss was associated with some increased dementia risk. Those who used hearing aids were 32 percent less likely to become demented.
Hearing Loss is an Established Risk Factor for Dementia
The Lancet Commission on dementia prevention, intervention, and care cited hearing loss as a major risk factor for dementia. “Hearing loss in middle age (45 to 65) is the most significant risk factor for dementia, occurring in more than eight percent of all dementia cases” (The Lancet Commissions, Aug 8, 2020;396(10248):P413-446). Other risk factors include: hypertension, smoking, obesity, depression, physical inactivity, diabetes, low social contact, lower education, excessive alcohol consumption, traumatic brain injury, and air pollution. There is a complicated explanation of the association between hearing loss and dementia. The part of the brain that interprets sound, the medial temporal lobe, is damaged to interfere with a person’s ability to process thoughts (Neuron, 2020 Nov 11; 108(3): 401–412).
The link between hearing loss and dementia suggests that people who have difficulty hearing should be evaluated and if indicated, treated with hearing aids.
The Food and Drug Administration has recently come out with a ruling that permits the sale of over-the-counter hearing aids in the United States. See my report on Over-The-Counter Hearing Aids