A John Hopkins University study showed that wearing a hearing aid can halve mental decline in people at risk of dementia. The findings, recently published in The Lancet, estimate that up to 8% of dementia cases could be prevented by halting hearing loss. The relationship between hearing and cognitive decline is discussed by the neuroscientist Arianna Di Stadio, professor at the GF Ingrassia Department, University of Catania and honorary researcher at the Neuroinflammation Laboratory of Queen Square Neurology in London.
“Several studies over the last decade have investigated the relationship between hearing loss and cognitive decline, as well as the relationship between this sensory deficit and Alzheimer’s disease. All studies conducted have identified a co-existence of hearing loss and impaired cognition but not a cause and effect relationship. Some studies have shown that in people with hearing loss there is a destruction of the auditory connections in the brain as happens, temporarily, in some neuro-inflammatory diseases (such as multiple sclerosis) that can cause hearing loss during the acute phase of neuro-inflammation. A study conducted with my team published in 2021 in Neurological Science analyzed the commonalities between hearing loss and dementia to understand if there were any elements that could link these diseases. We identified some elements of both molecular biology and radiology that could explain not a coexistence but a true cause-and-effect relationship that links these two pathologies», says Di Stadio.
Therefore, “it is essential to intervene promptly on hearing loss. Functional magnetic resonance studies have in fact shown that with hearing loss some areas of the brain ‘turn off’ and various studies show that there is therefore a cause-effect link between hearing loss and cognitive decline”. Based on different studies on both humans and animals, continues the expert, “it has been seen that the use of acute prosthesis is able to improve mnemonic, cognitive functions and allow the reconstruction of the auditory pathways that are destroyed by the loss of acoustic function. A study on animals has shown that the use of the cochlear implant, which is used in profound deafness, could activate the microglia in the brain in its beneficial form (neuroregeneration) by reconstituting the connections of the auditory pathways. And the use of hearing aids could produce the same benefit in patients with mild to moderate hearing loss.” Hearing screening, she concludes, “is essential to identify the problem as early as possible so as to correct it adequately”.
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