New research into hearing loss and cognitive decline

David Loughrey from Dublin is the lead author in new recently published research investigating hearing loss and cognitive decline and dementia. The research was published in JAMA Otolaryngology–Head & Neck Surgery in December 2017.

The research was completed as part of a research programme supported by DeafHear, Trinity College Dublin and the Irish Research Council.

There have been a large number of studies which have looked at hearing loss and cognitive decline and dementia in large cohorts of adults. These studies indicated that hearing loss may be linked with decline in cognitive functions such as attention, memory and possibly increased risk of developing dementia.

However, while some of these studies have reported that there is an association between cognitive decline and hearing loss, other studies have reported that there is little or no association.

This meta–analysis was conducted to investigate this further and clarify the association. Some of these studies used different assessments to measure hearing ability, but for this review only studies that used pure–tone audiometry which is the clinical standard were included. Also, only studies that used objective assessments of cognitive function were included.

Using meta–analysis allowed the authors to combine the results from multiple studies to form a more robust estimate of the association. In this study it was found that hearing loss does have a significant association with cognitive decline and dementia. It was concluded that further research into this relationship is warranted.

While these findings suggest that there is a link it does not explain what the nature of this association might be. It cannot be established based on these findings if treating hearing loss will reduce the risk of developing dementia but it was concluded that clinical trials are warranted to assess this.

There was some evidence that hearing aids may benefit short-term and semantic or long term memory. Hearing loss is common among older adults and in many cases it is untreated.

Intervention trials are required to determine if treating hearing loss can help maintain cognitive function.

David is presently continuing his research into hearing loss and cognitive decline in the Global Brain Health Institute based in Trinity College.

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