Hearing Loss—Linked to Dementia

October 8, 2020 by Cristina Twigg
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Epidemiological studies have uncovered a link between dementia and hearing loss. In fact, these studies show that hearing loss may be responsible for 1/10th of the 47 million cases worldwide. Published in the journal Neuron, a team at Newcastle University has put forth a new theory to explain how a disorder of the ear can lead to Alzheimer’s disease—a concept never looked at before. This new understanding may be a significant step towards advancing research into Alzheimer’s disease, preventing the illness for future generations.

Newcastle experts considered three key aspects:

  • A common underlying cause for hearing loss and dementia
  • Lack of sound-related input leading to brain shrinking
  • Cognitive impairment resulting in people having to engage more brain resources to compensate for hearing loss, which made that part of the brain unavailable for other tasks

Findings:

The Newcastle team proposed a new angle, focusing on the memory centers deep in the brain. “Mechanisms for difficult listening” is a central theme for the research group. Their work indicates that this part of the brain, typically associated with long-term memory for places and events, is also involved in short-term storage and manipulation of auditory information. Dr. Will Sedley, from Newcastle University’s Faculty of Medical Sciences, said: “The memory system engaged in difficult listening is the most common site for the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.” Professor Tim Griffiths, from Newcastle University’s Faculty of Medical Sciences, said: “The challenge has been to explain how a disorder of the ear can lead to a degenerative problem in the brain. We suggest a new theory based on how we use the area of the brain generally considered to be the memory center when we have difficulty listening in real-world environments.” This is a huge step in Alzheimer’s research, opening the door to new treatment possibilities (once more information has been uncovered.) For now, the researchers “propose that altered activity in the memory system caused by hearing loss and the Alzheimer’s disease process trigger each other. Researchers now need to examine this mechanism in models of the pathological process to test if this new theory is right.”

Why it matters:

Preventing hearing loss is already crucial for keeping members of the community engaged, and not feeling isolated. If this new theory proves to be true, then caring for hearing loss is more vital than we ever thought. That’s why it’s important to pay attention to your body and what it’s telling you. If you’re experiencing trouble hearing, then act! Give us a call and set up and in-person or TeleHealth appointment. Let us diagnose and treat whatever we find. Together, we can ensure you’re at tip-top hearing health shape for years to come!

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