Hearing loss and the risk of dementia
Learn about the link between hearing loss and dementia as well as how to manage hearing loss.
Does hearing loss increase the risk of dementia?
People who develop hearing problems during mid-life (aged 40–65) have an increased risk of developing dementia. It may also be one of the early symptoms of dementia.
Many people start to lose their hearing as they get older, though they may not notice it at first. To reduce the risk of dementia, it’s important to get your hearing tested. The use of hearing aids has been shown to reduce the risk of dementia to the level of a person with normal hearing.
Remember that hearing loss is only a risk factor and does not mean that a person with hearing loss will develop dementia.
How to reduce the risk of dementia
A lifelong approach to good health is the best way to lower your risk of dementia.
There are some lifestyle behaviours with enough evidence to show that changing them will reduce your risk of dementia.
Age-related hearing loss and dementia
Age-related hearing loss is a common condition affecting older people. It often starts with problems hearing what other people say, especially in noisy environments. Symptoms can start gradually and be difficult to notice. This makes early detection and treatment difficult.
There are two types of hearing loss: peripheral hearing loss and central hearing loss.
- Peripheral hearing loss is the reduced abilities of the ears to detect sounds. This does increase a person’s risk of developing dementia.
- Central hearing loss involves problems with processing sounds in the brain, that are not able to be corrected with hearing aids. This may be a very early symptom of Alzheimer’s disease, as sound processing parts of the brain are affected by the disease.
Protect your hearing to reduce dementia risk
You may be able to book a free hearing test at your local optician or speak to your GP about being referred to an audiologist (a doctor for hearing). This will show up any hearing issues and provide ways of managing them, such as using a hearing aid.
Studies have shown that people who use hearing aids are less likely to develop dementia. Hearing aid use was also associated with fewer memory problems and thinking problems independent of dementia. Tracking hearing aid use over a long period showed that it was associated with less decline in memory skills.
Often, managing hearing loss works best when you start doing it early on. This means protecting your hearing from a young age. For example, you can avoid listening to loud noises for long periods and wear ear protection when necessary.
The link between hearing loss and dementia risk
if a person’s hearing worsens in mid-life, their risk of developing dementia when they are older increases.
People with hearing problems may be more likely to withdraw from social situations and become more isolated over time. Social isolation and depression are both risk factors for dementia.
Hearing loss may also mean that the areas of the brain that help us understand sounds and speech have to work harder to understand what sounds are. This additional effort may lead to changes in the brain that affects our memory and thinking abilities.
The link between hearing loss and dementia is not fully explained, but it does not mean that someone with hearing loss will go on to develop dementia – just that their risk is higher.
It is possible that hearing loss is a risk factor for dementia, or an early symptom, or both, but it is very difficult to determine on an individual basis.
There have been many studies looking into the association between peripheral hearing loss and memory and thinking problems, or dementia.
A large piece of work looked at all the things that are related to an increased risk of developing dementia. When assessing a risk factor, researchers look at the number of people who develop dementia who have that risk factor, compared to those who don’t. In this case, researchers analysed many studies and showed that hearing loss is one of twelve main factors that leads to the highest risk of developing dementia.
Nearly double the amount of people with mild hearing loss (at the World Heath Organization threshold for diagnosis of hearing loss) will develop dementia compared to those without hearing loss. The risk tripled with moderate hearing loss and was nearly five times with severe hearing loss.
Even low levels of hearing loss have been associated with increased dementia risk and a decrease in memory and thinking skills. Hearing loss has also been shown to be linked to quicker shrinkage of areas of the brain responsible for processing sounds and memories.
Alzheimer's Society dementia support line
Call 0333 150 3456.
If you are affected by dementia, worried about a diagnosis or a carer, trained staff are ready to give you the support you need. Opening hours (excluding bank holidays): Mon to Weds: 9am – 8pm, Thurs and Fri: 9am – 5pm, Sat and Sun: 10am – 4pm.
Last reviewed: December 2023
Next review: December 2025