Wearing a hearing aid or undergoing cataract surgery could prevent dementia, two major studies suggest.
Cognitive decline, which affects both memory and thinking skills, is slowed after a patient’s hearing and sight improve.
The rate of decline is halved following cataract surgery and is reduced by 75 per cent following the adoption of hearing aids, scientists found.
Manchester University researchers, who led the trials, branded the results ‘exciting’ as the battle for a dementia cure continues.
They believe retaining sight and hearing keeps a person physically active and socially engaged, reducing their risk of the disease.
Wearing a hearing aid or undergoing cataract surgery could prevent dementia (stock)
The research on cataract surgery – which assessed participants between 2002 and 2014 – was published in the journal PLOS One.
It compared survey answers from 2,068 people who underwent cataract surgery in England with 3,636 people who had not.
The trial on hearing aids – which followed participants between 1996 and 2014 – was published in the Journal of the America Geriatrics Society.
It was carried out using 2,040 participants from the American Health and Retirement survey.
Both surveys assessed cognitive decline by testing the participants’ memories.
They were asked to immediately recall 10 words and then again at the end of the session.
The scientists compared the rates of decline before and after the patients had surgery or started wearing hearing aids.
Dr Asri Maharani, co-author of the studies, said: ‘Age is one of the most important factors implicated in cognitive decline.
‘We find that hearing and vision interventions may slow it down and perhaps prevent some cases of dementia.’
She described the results as ‘exciting’ but added further trials are required to confirm the link.
Dr Piers Dawes, fellow co-author, said: ‘These studies underline just how important it is to overcome the barriers which deny people from accessing hearing and visual aids.
‘It’s not really certain why hearing and visual problems have an impact on cognitive decline, but I’d guess that isolation, stigma and the resultant lack of physical activity that are linked to hearing and vision problems might have something to do with it.
‘And there are barriers to overcome: People might not want to wear hearing aids because of stigma attached to wearing them, or they feel the amplification is not good enough or they’re not comfortable.
‘Perhaps a way forward is adult screening to better identify hearing and vision problems and in the case of hearing loss, demedicalising the whole process so treatment is done outside the clinical setting.
‘That could reduce stigma.’
Gemma Twitchen, senior audiologist at Action on Hearing Loss said: ’Getting hearing aids as early as possible has a number of significant advantages.
‘Research shows that early use of hearing aids makes it easier for the wearer to adapt to them, getting the most out of them.
‘Hearing loss is a significant health issue, which, if ignored or unmanaged, can lead to isolation, dementia and mental health problems.
‘Hearing aids are vital in helping people who rely on them to communicate better, stay in work and continue to have an active life, and are the only viable treatment.
She added attempts to introduce rationing of hearing aids had largely been fought off – but one clinical commissioning group, North Staffordshire, still rations them.
She said: ‘We fought vigorously against the cuts to hearing aid provision for people with mild and moderate hearing loss.
‘We are particularly concerned that North Staffordshire CCG remains the only CCG to have implemented cuts to hearing aid provision and did so against both public opinion and all clinical evidence demonstrating that hearing aids are the only viable treatment for many people with hearing loss.
‘We will continue to fight against these cuts and believe hearing aids should be available to all who need them.’
Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK said the research ‘helps underline why it is so important for older people to have access to good quality hearing aids and eye care.
She added: ‘Correcting problems with vision and hearing can help open up a world that was previously closed off and reduce some of the isolation and loneliness that these problems can bring.’
WHAT IS DEMENTIA? THE KILLER DISEASE THAT ROBS SUFFERERS OF THEIR MEMORIES
Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe a range of neurological disorders
A GLOBAL CONCERN
Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe a range of progressive neurological disorders, that is, conditions affecting the brain.
There are many different types of dementia, of which Alzheimer’s disease is the most common.
Some people may have a combination of types of dementia.
Regardless of which type is diagnosed, each person will experience their dementia in their own unique way.
Dementia is a global concern but it is most often seen in wealthier countries, where people are likely to live into very old age.
HOW MANY PEOPLE ARE AFFECTED?
The Alzheimer’s Society reports there are more than 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK today, of which more than 500,000 have Alzheimer’s.
It is estimated that the number of people living with dementia in the UK by 2025 will rise to over 1 million.
In the US, it’s estimated there are 5.5 million Alzheimer’s sufferers. A similar percentage rise is expected in the coming years.
As a person’s age increases, so does the risk of them developing dementia.
Rates of diagnosis are improving but many people with dementia are thought to still be undiagnosed.
IS THERE A CURE?
Currently there is no cure for dementia.
But new drugs can slow down its progression and the earlier it is spotted the more effective treatments are.
Source: Dementia UK