Hearing problems linked to increased dementia risk

Mon Feb 14, 2011 11:00pm EST
 
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NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - People who are hard of hearing have increased odds of developing dementia as they age, fueling hopes that wider use of hearing aids might stem the rise of dementia, according to a U.S. study.

The study of more than 600 men and women by Johns Hopkins University surgeon Frank Lin and colleagues showed that the worse the participants' hearing, the greater their dementia risk.

"Does it mean you will develop dementia if your hearing is impaired? Absolutely not!" Lin said, noting that while a small study from the 1980s found similar results this study was the first to follow people over time.

"But is your risk increased? You betcha."

With funding from the National Institute on Aging, Lin and his colleagues followed more than 600 men and women aged 36 to 90 over an average of 12 years. All had a hearing test done at the start of the study, but none had dementia at that point.

Overall, 9 percent of the participants developed some kind of dementia during the study, which was published in the Archives of Neurology, most commonly Alzheimer's disease.

Those with mild hearing loss had nearly twice the chance of developing dementia compared to people with normal hearing, even after ruling out the influence of age and other factors.

The risk increased three-fold for those with moderate hearing loss, and five-fold for severe impairment.

Lin noted that the reasons for the link are unclear, saying there were three possibilities, such as hearing loss and dementia sharing a common, unknown cause.   Continued...