People in their thirties are being advised by experts to have regular hearing checks to help prevent dementia in later life.
A new online tool from Alzheimer’s Research UK highlights steps that people can take to reduce their risk of certain types of dementia.
They include maintaining good hearing after several studies identified a link between hearing loss and dementia risk.
A new poll of 2,200 UK adults, conducted by YouGov on behalf of the charity, suggests that while 35% of people say that they have had concerns about their hearing, more than half of those (59%) have done nothing about it.
Speaking ahead of the launch of the new brain health checker, Dr Sarah Bauermeister, senior scientist at Dementia Platforms UK, said: “In my own research, we found that hearing aid users had a 50% lower risk of mild cognitive impairment if they wore their hearing aid for their hearing impairment compared to those who did not use their hearing aids.
“And this was in a study of over 4,000 individuals from the National Alzheimer’s Disease Coordinating Centre.
“In our second study of 2,000 people with hearing impairment (and mild cognitive impairment), we found that these people, if they had hearing impairment and wore their hearing aid, the progression from mild cognitive impairment to dementia was reduced by 27%.”
Dr Bauermeister went on to stress the importance of regular hearing tests "across the lifespan so that it’s normalised to have a hearing check whether you’re 30 or 40."
She added that maintaining good hearing health could also help reduce other dementia risk factors including social isolation and physical inactivity.
The advice comes following a further warning issued last week that skipping a hearing test could have long term implications on health, with hearing loss a potential risk factor of dementia.
The research from the Royal National Institute for Deaf People (RNID) shows that just 6% of people in the UK, who have not been diagnosed with hearing loss, have taken a hearing check in the last 12 months.
This contrasts starkly to people going for other health checks including visiting the dentist (53%), having an eye test (46%) or having their blood pressure checked (44%).
RNID advises that hearing loss can be slow to spot, and if left unmanaged people can gradually become more isolated from their family and friends and experience loneliness and depression.
It can also increase the risk of dementia by up to five times, the charity advises, but there is growing evidence to suggest that getting support and treatment early may reduce these risks.
According to RNID an international review in medical journal The Lancet, published in 2017, suggests that hearing loss is one of nine key risk factors for dementia that are possibly modifiable (factors that can be changed to reduce dementia risk).
The review suggests that one in three cases of dementia could be prevented if more people looked after their health throughout their lives.
Unaddressed hearing loss in mid-life was predicted to be the highest potentially modifiable risk factor for developing dementia, although the charity advises further research is needed to explore the link further.
Watch: One billion young people are at risk of hearing loss, new study finds
When it comes to the potential signs of hearing loss that people are potentially ignoring, RNID found from previous research that more than 34% of people who are not diagnosed with a hearing loss admits they’ve pretended to follow conversations they’ve struggled to hear.
The same amount (34%) have found it difficult to follow conversations in noisy surroundings like restaurants or parties.
The charity also found almost a fifth (24%) have found themselves asking people to repeat themselves and 13% say they have been told by their partner they think they might have a problem with their hearing.
Commenting on the findings, Crystal Rolfe, associate director for health at RNID, says: “Everyone should be valuing and protecting their hearing as much as they value and protect their teeth, eyes or blood pressure, and this can all start with a simple hearing check.
"If over the festive season or whilst attending a New Year’s Eve party, you found yourself, or saw your partner or parents asking people to repeat themselves or struggling to follow a conversation, please take the first step and check your hearing.
“We found that 73% of people said they would consider making a health-related resolution in the new year which they could fulfil in three minutes. This January, as well as promising to sign up to a gym, read a book a month or give up chocolate, pledge to take the RNID hearing check and tick off your first New Year’s resolution straight away.”
How to get hearing test
You can get a free hearing test on the NHS. GPs can refer you onto a hearing specialist, known as an audiologist.
Large pharmacies and opticians also offer tests, many of which are free.
RNID have also created a free and quick hearing test. The test is available on the RNID website and only takes three minutes to complete.
It was created for anyone aged over 18 that has not been diagnosed with hearing loss and works by measuring how well you can hear speech when there is background noise.
At the end of the test, you will find out if you need to see someone about your hearing and get advice on what to do next.
Always see a GP first if:
you also have other symptoms, like earache or discharge – this could be something easily treatable like an earwax build-up or ear infection
you have sudden hearing loss in one ear
you're worried about your child's hearing
Additional reporting PA.