People who listen to loud music or suffer depression could be at a higher risk of developing dementia, according to new research.
Recent studies have found that poor mental health and hearing loss can both age the brain prematurely and increase the chances of someone getting dementia.
Scientists say hearing loss – even if it is so minor it is not diagnosed – causes people to use more of the brain to process speech, which ages it faster.
The World Health Organization says more than 466 million people worldwide have hearing loss.
Scientists at the Ohio State University in Columbus found hearing loss speeds up the brain’s decline by using more effort to understand what someone is hearing.
People with normal hearing only use one side of the brain to process sounds, whereas those with a hearing loss at any age may use both sides.
This applies even to young people with subtle hearing problems, which can be caused by loud music in headphones or at concerts, or working with power tools.
Because the brain realises it cannot hear as well as it used to, it compensates by working harder to understand, which is more strenuous.
‘This isn’t about the ear,’ says lead researcher Yune Lee. ‘It’s about the brain, the cognitive process, and it shouldn’t be happening until people are at least older than 50.
‘We can’t be sure but we suspect that what happens is you put so much effort into listening you drain your cognitive resources, and that has a negative effect on your thinking and memory and that can eventually lead to dementia.
‘Letting hearing loss happen early in your life could be like spending your retirement money when you’re in your 30s. You’re going to need that down the road.’
Dementia, according the Alzheimer’s Society – affects one in 14 of over-65s, and one in six people over 80.
Most commonly associated with forgetfulness, people with dementia may also struggle to think clearly, have difficulty speaking or moving about, and their moods and personality can change.
There is no cure for dementia but if diagnosed early it can be slowed down.
Young people are now more aware of the need to protect their hearing and the use of subtle earplugs with noise attenuation filters for loud environments are becoming extremely popular.
Lifestyle Hearing at the New Salt Rock Centre specialises in custom fit hearing protection and they offer free screening to determine the current status of your hearing. Contact Lauren or Pierre on 032 525 4368 for more info.