Outside the office of a charity in Dublin that helps people with hearing problems (Simon Roughneen)

People are more likely to end up with dementia if they first develop hearing difficulties, according to a new study taking in over half a million people.

But while going deaf linked with cognitive decline, using hearing aids could help prevent or delay the onset and progression of dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease, according to a team of the Denmark-based scientists.

From 2003-17, the team tracked around 573,000 people living in the south of the country, including over 23,000 dementia patients.

“Severe hearing loss in the better and worse ear was associated with a higher dementia risk,” they reported, adding that the risk was higher among those who did not wear a hearing aid.

While the link between hearing problems and dementia is not new, the researchers said there was a need “to better understand the association between these 2 conditions and the underlying causal mechanisms and treatment benefits using larger cohorts and detailed data” – and to look more closely at how hearing aids could help not only with deafness but with related conditions.

The researchers were led by Manuella Lech Cantuaria of the University of Southern Denmark and their research was published in Otolaryngology–Head & Neck Surgery, an American Medical Association journal.

They cautioned that the risk estimates were lower than in other similar studies, suggesting there needs to be some fine-tuning of how the links between hearing aids, hearing loss and cognitive decline are researched.

The publication followed the University of Southern California the same week releasing research showing how wearing hearing aids could help people live longer.

Some estimates suggest only 1 in 10 of people who need hearing aids end up wearing one, with factors such as price and the difficulty in finding good-quality devices often cited as reasons for the apparent reluctance.

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