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How hearing aids could protect against dementia

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A new study suggests that wearing hearing aids could help to stave off dementia for many.

Topping the list of 12 modifiable risks that could delay or prevent 40% of dementia cases, is mid-life hearing loss.

At the same time, unaddressed hearing loss could be increasing risk to a number of other risks included in the list.

The new research indicates that using a hearing aid now will likely minimise the risk of dementia in the future, and the sooner action is taken to treat your hearing loss, the better.

The report by The Lancet Commission, ‘Dementia Prevention, Intervention and Care’, lists 12 modifiable risk factors that account for up to 40% of dementia cases, which, if more widely known, could help significantly reduce the amount of people diagnosed or postpone diagnosis with the debilitating condition in the future.

Unaddressed hearing loss is stated to be the leading preventable cause of dementia, and the report goes on to recommend hearing aids as an effective course of action.

Along with dementia, hearing loss is commonly associated with ageing, and as it happens gradually, it isn’t immediately obvious.

You may not notice that you can no longer hear the birds chirping or your own footsteps anymore, so could easily get used to and live with your reduced hearing ability, often for many, many years.

The delay in addressing hearing loss can have serious adverse effects on your health and lifestyle.

Depression and low social contact are particularly common, both of which are also listed in the report as modifiable risks for dementia.

Promptly adopting hearing aids as soon as you recognise your hearing loss could help you, and indeed scores of people, to reduce your risk of some considerable negative effects on your health and well-being, including protecting yourself from dementia in the future.

How do hearing aids help prevent dementia? Hearing is interlinked with everything we do every day.

With a diminished ability to hear there is a, sometimes invisible, knock-on effect to our lives, and indeed our health.

Hearing aids let you access your hearing, and the better a hearing aid supports your hearing loss, the less your life and health are impacted.

With good hearing you can continue to enjoy social environments.

Instead of conversations becoming too hard, tiring and stressful, which tends to lead to increased isolation, and inevitably loneliness and depression, hearing aids ensure you can stay socially active and that you benefit from the positive social stimulation essential for your brain’s health.Hearing aids also help prevent the direct effect of hearing loss on our brain.

If you can hear well in a way that is almost natural, your brain will not compensate by relying more on information from other senses. Primarily, with hearing loss, our natural reaction to attempt to lip read kicks in which actually refocuses brain resources and eventually changes the way our brain behaves.

Importantly, the compensation activity of the brain reduces cognitive capacity, so it is more difficult to remember what is heard or to reflect on – and respond to information received, as needed to be socially engaged.

Wearing effective hearing aids frees up the cognitive energy needed for other important functions such as memory recall, lessens the tiring burden on the brain and even slows brain shrinkage as you age.

Thomas Behrens, chief Audiologist at leading hearing aid provider, Oticon, says: “The better you hear, the easier it is for you to fully participate in life which helps to keep your brain fit and healthy. We take brain health very seriously, which is why for many years Oticon has carried out pioneering research on how hearing loss affects the brain and is dedicated to innovating hearing aid technologies that reduce the effort the brain endures trying to make sense of sound.

“Our ‘BrainHearing’ philosophy enables users of our hearing aids more enjoyment and increased confidence to take part in the social engagements that many with hearing loss find too difficult.”

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