Hearing loss may cause dementia, study finds

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Addressing hearing loss may prevent dementia, according to a recent study.

A team of researchers at Newcastle University in the UK suggested a new theory on how the loss of hearing may cause dementia and that addressing hearing impairment may help to prevent the condition, according to the published report in the journal Neuron.

“The challenge has been to explain how a disorder of the ear can lead to a degenerative problem in the brain,” author of the study, Tim Griffiths, a professor of Newcastle University’s Faculty of Medical Sciences, said in a press release.

Researchers discuss a new theory on how loss of hearing may cause dementia and that addressing hearing impairment may help prevent the condition. (iStock)<br>

Researchers discuss a new theory on how loss of hearing may cause dementia and that addressing hearing impairment may help prevent the condition. (iStock)

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Finding a link between hearing and dementia has critical implications, the authors wrote in the published report.

“While it is difficult, if not impossible, to remediate cortical degradation, hearing loss is widely treatable with hearing aids or cochlear implants. Thus, an understanding of the mechanisms linking the two could have wide-ranging public health importance,” the authors wrote.

The researchers considered explanations of how changes in brain activity due to a person’s loss of hearing might cause elevated levels of abnormal proteins associated with Alzheimer’s disease, leading to the neurodegenerative condition associated with memory loss. The researchers looked at three key aspects: lack of input from sound leading to brain shrinkage; an underlying cause for loss of hearing and dementia; and brain resources becoming unavailable to perform other tasks because they have to compensate for hearing loss.

The team also suggested a new approach regarding hearing and memory loss that focused on memory centers in the temporal lobe of the brain, according to the study. The experts recently found the temporal lobe is not only associated with long term memory for events and places but also short-term storage and manipulation of auditory information, according to a news release about the study.

“We suggest a new theory based on how we use what is generally considered to be the memory system in the brain when we have difficulty listening in real-world environments,” Griffiths said in the release.

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“This memory system engaged in difficult listening is the most common site for the onset of Alzheimer’s disease,” co-author Dr. Will Sedley, a member of Newcastle University’s Faculty of Medical Sciences, said in the release. “We propose that altered activity in the memory system caused by hearing loss and the Alzheimer’s disease process trigger each other.”

The authors stated in their report that epidemiological studies revealed that midlife hearing loss is an “independent risk factor for dementia” and is estimated to account for 9% of the 47 million cases worldwide, according to the study.

The team of experts developed the theory linking hearing loss with dementia by culminating findings from various human studies and animal models, recommending further research to investigate this new theory.

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