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Say what? Hearing loss increases risk of dementia

February 15, 2016
by Nicole Stempak, Associate Editor
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Researchers are speaking up about hearing loss.

The worse a person's hearing, the more likely they are to develop dementia over the next 10 years. Mild hearing loss doubles the risk of developing dementia, moderate loss triples it, and severe loss makes it five times as likely.

Doctors must stop thinking of hearing loss as a natural part of aging, researcher Frank Lin, MD, PhD, said at the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s annual conference in Washington, D.C.

"Our research suggests that hearing loss could be another ‘hit’ on the brain in many ways," says Lin, an associate professor at Johns Hopkins University in the Daily Mail.

Hearing loss may have a direct effect on the risk of dementia, and addressing hearing loss may have a bigger effect on reducing dementia than other public health measures.

Lin's research has found the prevalence of hearing loss doubles with each decade. Nearly two-thirds of adults age 70 and older have meaningful hearing loss that affects daily communication.

Lin also found age-related brain shrinkage is accelerated in older people with hearing loss, who lose an additional cubic centimeter of grey matter a year.

Research has found key brain regions involved in hearing are also involved in recall. It’s also thought an increased strain to hear uses brainpower that would normally be devoted to memory and the social isolation of hearing loss might increase risk of dementia.

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