Hearing Loss And Dementia: Is The Link Now In Doubt?

Book a free hearing test - Dementia

If you have any questions about how well your ears are functioning, the opportunity to book a free hearing test is one you should not miss. After all, if everything is well, you can be reassured by this. If, on the other hand, you need some assistance like a hearing aid, an early diagnosis can save you a whole lot of trouble.

Some of the benefits will be immediately obvious. By ensuring you can hear properly, you won’t miss important instructions. You can more fully enjoy viewing TV programmes and listening to the radio, or music online. Most importantly, you won’t suffer the social isolation that can come from not being able to participate fully in a conversation.

However, the situation could get a lot worse. Struggling to hear is bad enough, but what if a consequence of this is the acceleration of cognitive decline? Nobody wants to get dementia as they get older, so studies showing a clear link provide an extra reason to get your ears checked, and have a hearing aid fitted if required should act as a call to action.

Such a study was published in April by the Lancet, with data highlighting clear differences in cognitive impairment between those with declining hearing who wore hearing aids and those who did not. However, in a dramatic development, the journal has just withdrawn the paper, admitting a crucial error in compiling the data.

The problem arose because the codes listing the people in the study who used hearing aids and those who did not were mixed up, so the researchers ended up drawing conclusions based on the wrong data, leading to “false and misleading” results.

In a statement, the Lancet said: “Retractions are a rare but important part of the publishing process, and we are grateful to the scientists who prompted the re-examination of the data.”

Retractions may be rare for the Lancet, but not necessarily across the whole realm of scientific and medical research. Science journal Nature has highlighted the startling fact that over 10,000 papers have been retracted globally, a new high, although these have chiefly come from particular countries such as Russia, China and Saudi Arabia.

Does this mean you should forget the advice about hearing loss and dementia? The answer has to be no. Firstly, the very scrutiny that highlighted the problems in the Lancet paper has been applied to – and upheld – other studies that have also shown a link between dementia and hearing loss.

For instance, in January a US study found older people with moderate or severe hearing loss were 61 per cent more likely to suffer dementia than those with normal hearing, while those with depleted hearing who used hearing aids were 32 per cent less likely to suffer dementia.

This and other research indicating a clear connection between poor hearing and dementia in later life would suggest that this should still be a clear concern, even if one study went wrong.

Quite apart from all that, however, the first point about the benefits of having better hearing still stands. With or without cognitive decline, helping yourself to live everyday life more easily through good hearing is reason enough to check if you need help.