Dementia is a condition that affects a lot of people in different ways, with a huge number of factors that impact how it affects people’s lives.
The three-year study, published in The Lancet journal, aimed to explore the link between hearing loss and symptoms of dementia.
The results found were mixed; in a general population, treating hearing loss did not affect cognitive decline, but for people who were at a higher risk of dementia, hearing aids helped to reduce memory loss and cognitive skills.
This highlights that for people who are at a greater risk of dementia or are already managing dementia symptoms, hearing aids can help to slow the rate of decline.
There are multiple theories as to why, and experts are continuing to explore why there is a distinct connection between hearing and cognitive function.
One suggestion is that partial hearing loss makes the brain focus more on trying to understand what has been said, which could work to the detriment of other cognitive functions such as memory and critical thinking.
As well as this, loss of hearing can potentially shrink certain parts of the brain, contributing to a general loss of brain matter.
The final theory is that whilst hearing loss on its own does not affect brain function, it can cause a decline in social engagement, which itself has links to decreased brain function, loss of brain matter and the increased risk of dementia.
One factor in the study is that it was relatively short; given that dementia can sometimes take decades to develop, it is not clear exactly how much can be learned in just three years.
Regardless, the results do highlight the importance of hearing aids for people at risk of dementia.