Does hearing loss cause dementia?
Age-related hearing loss is associated with cognitive decline and dementia. It is becoming increasingly clear how these processes interact - and how they can perhaps be prevented.
Today, more than 50 million people worldwide are living with dementia. The number of people affected is increasing every year and forecasts suggest that it could triple by 2050. Can this development be curbed by targeted measures? In 2020, a commission of experts led by psychiatrist Gill Livingston from University College London described twelve risk factors for dementia in the journal "The Lancet", which, according to their analysis, account for 40 percent of the risk of developing the disease (see graphic "Calculated risk"). These include circumstances that are often mentioned in connection with neurodegeneration, such as less education, a lack of social contacts, air pollution, craniocerebral trauma and lack of exercise. However, the experts attribute the comparatively greatest influence to another factor: hearing loss. The commission estimates that around eight percent of diseases could be avoided by eliminating it.
Insidious hearing loss usually becomes noticeable from midlife. Our ears have already been through a lot: traffic, leisure and work-related noise affect the fine structures of the inner ear. Problems perceiving high frequencies are often among the first signs of anomalies. Those affected then find it more difficult to follow conversations - especially if they take place in a noisy environment such as a crowded restaurant. According to the definition of the World He alth Organization (WHO), hearing loss becomes clinically relevant when a person can no longer perceive volumes below 26 decibels. For comparison: a wristwatch pressed to your ear ticks at about 20 decibels, a whisper is about 30 decibels loud. More than 40 percent…