WEARING a hearing aid in middle age may protect against dementia, a study found.
Hearing loss is known to increase the risk of the condition by twice as much as any other factor, such as smoking and obesity.
But researchers found wearing an aid when hard of hearing may lessen this risk and preserve brain power for longer.
Those who wore a device for two years performed better in memory tests than those who did not.
And they were able to concentrate significantly better, the University of Exeter found.
The difference in effect was the equivalent of eight years of normal ageing.
The boffins analysed data on 25,000 people aged over 50 who took tests each year for two years.
Half wore an aid to improve their hearing throughout the trial and the other half did not.
Prof Clive Ballard said: “This is an early finding and needs more investigation, yet it has exciting potential.
“The message here is that if you’re advised you need a hearing aid, find one that works for you.
“At the very least it will improve your hearing and it could help keep your brain sharp too.”
What is dementia and are there different types?
Dementia is a general term used to describe the deterioration of a person’s mental ability that is severe enough to interfere with their daily life.
It is known for the problems it causes with thinking, reasoning and memory – as these are the areas in the brain that become damaged.
There are two main groups dementia can be split into:
- Cortical, which causes severe memory loss like that seen in Alzheimer’s,
- Sub-cortical, which affects thinking speed and activity as seen with Parkinson’s disease.
Vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s are two of the most common forms and they both cause problems with memory.
Both are rare in those under 65 years old.
Other common forms of dementia are Frontotemporal dementia, mostly diagnosed in those under 65 years old, and dementia with Lewy bodies, where nerve damage gradually gets worse over time causing slowed movement.
Scientists recently discovered a new form of dementia that has often been mistaken for Alzheimer’s.
They say it is part of the reason why finding a cure to dementia has failed so far.
Dr Anne Corbett said: “Previous research has shown that hearing loss is linked to a loss of brain function, memory and an increased risk of dementia.
“Our work is one of the largest studies to look at the impact of wearing a hearing aid, and suggests that wearing a hearing aid could actually protect the brain.
“We now need more research and a clinical trial to test this and perhaps feed into policy to help keep people healthy in later life.”
It is thought people with age-related hearing loss may become isolated as they increasingly struggle to engage in conversations.
This may mean they are less likely to go out, socialise with others, or keep their brain active by interacting with the world.
Dr Jana Voigt, from Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “This is an exciting result that will need to be further tested in clinical trials.
“If shown to work, encouraging people to wear hearing aids could be a simple but effective way of reducing dementia risk.
“At this point, it’s unclear what is driving the link between hearing loss and dementia.”
The findings were presented at an international Alzheimer’s conference in Los Angeles.