The symptom after age 40 that anticipates dementia (and how to avoid it)

The symptom after age 40 that anticipates dementia (and how to avoid it)

According to The Lancet International Commission on Dementia Prevention, Intervention and Care.hearing loss is the main risk factor for developing dementia after middle age, when we cross the 40-year barrier. The commission estimates that accounts for up to 20.5% of preventable causes.

Humberto Yévenes

Humberto Yévenes Briones

  • Postdoctoral Researcher, Epidemiology and Public Health, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid.

Currently, about 1.5 billion people experience an impaired sense of hearing.and it is estimated that it will affect 2.5 billion by 2050, which gives an idea of the scale of the problem. For example, in the United States, almost half of individuals over the age of 65 suffer from it.

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Apart from aging, due to cellular damage accumulated over a lifetime, loud noises – such as those in large cities – genetic inheritance, the use of some medications, and ailments such as meningitis can trigger the hearing impairment.

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In the elderly, both dementia and hearing loss are associated with greater isolation, depression and, ultimately, mortality. Therefore, knowing, determining and adequately characterizing the factors that can protect us from both disorders is a challenge for the international scientific community.

First comprehensive study

Along these lines, Chinese, Japanese, Indian and other scientists have just published in. the scientific journal The Lancet Public Health the findings of a comprehensive study that analyzed the association between the use of hearing aids and the risk of developing dementia. To do so, they used information from more than 400,000 participants registered in the UK Biobank database.

Their results indicated that the use of these devices is indeed associated with lower probabilities of developing dementia in people affected by hearing impairment.

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In fact, and this is a very significant statistic, the risk would be on par with that of a person with intact hearing abilities. The results were observed both for all-cause dementia diagnoses and for specific cases such as Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia.

This is an important study, as it was conducted in a large number of individuals from middle age onwards (men and women between 40 and 69 years of age). and with a follow-up period of more than 12 years. In addition, the authors obtained the information from various sources, such as hospital records and causes of death, which makes the results more robust.

The power of hearing aids

To date, few papers had analyzed this association. And those that had done so had limited numbers of participants or very short follow-up periods.

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As the authors emphasize, this new research opens up new avenues in dementia prevention: by attenuating hearing loss, hearing aids decrease cognitive load (they make our brain work less hard to decode sounds, leaving more resources for other tasks such as attention or memory) and alleviate sensory deprivation. Both factors partly explain the development of dementias.

If we consider the results of this study, added to the lowering of the price of hearing aids and the fact that some countries such as the United States have allowed their free sale for deaf people, the implementation of this type of device could be a major breakthrough in the fight against dementia. Elsewhere they have to be mandatorily prescribed by physicians or audiologists.

We hope that future studies with large numbers of participants and long follow-up periods will continue to be replicated in order to reaffirm the results observed in this promising research.

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Kayleigh Williams