The briefing found emerging evidence into hearing care as a key part of healthy ageing. It reviews evidence which suggests that the prompt use of hearing technology such as hearing aids and cochlear implants can help reduce cognitive decline. Hearing loss is believed to directly increase the risk of cognitive decline and dementia through the effects of hearing loss on the brain and social isolation. Livingstone et al in The Lancet (2017) concluded that mid-life and late-life hearing loss may account for up to 9.1% of preventable dementia cases worldwide and is one of the most potentially modifiable risk factors for dementia.
Hearing loss impairs communication, has been linked to reduced social support from others and loneliness which, in turn, could increase health risks. More specifically, communication and social connectedness are critical to brain health, helping to address dementia and maintain cognitive abilities. Investing in hearing loss presents major opportunities for health systems to invest in healthy aging and for the public to take action about their hearing, particularly as they age. Hearing well matters.
The authors recommend that health systems need to do more to screen for hearing loss in middle age, make hearing well a public health priority and fund this properly and ensure better assessment and hearing support for those with dementia. They also call for hearing organisations, patients’ groups and professionals to work more closely together to ensure that the benefits of hearing health are better understood and promoted, especially in relation to cognitive decline and dementia.
The briefing has been welcomed by BSHAA president Andrew Coulter. He said: “The evidence for hearing’s critical role in ageing well is stacking up. The briefing paper pulls together many important strands in this area, and makes recommendations around screening, working together and the need for a public health campaign that we support completely.”