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Hearing loss could lead to dementia

New research suggests that those who suffer hearing loss experience faster brain shrinkage than those with normal hearing. Whilst this happens naturally with age, the rate is quicker for those with hearing loss.

Researchers from the National Institute of Ageing and John Hopkins University, Baltimore, compared the brains of older people with impaired hearing and those with normal hearing using the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Ageing.

Started in 1958 to track health in elderly men and women, the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Ageing, together with research from other studies, showed that hearing loss led to noticeable changes in brain structure, particularly the part of the brain that processes information relating to sound. The original study looked at the brains of 126 participants over 10 years using annual MRI scans. Dr. Frank Lin, assistant professor at the John Hopkins University schools of medicine and public health, discovered that those with hearing impairment at the start of the study had accelerated rates of brain shrinkage.

Visible shrinkage to the middle and inferior temporal gyri could affect memory and these areas have also shown to be associated with the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. The research suggests that it is important to address hearing loss quickly. Dr. Lin commented: “Our results suggest that hearing loss could be another ‘hit’ on the brain in many ways.”