If you’re worried about developing dementia later in life, you shouldn’t wait until you’re over 65 to take measures against it. Whatever age you’re at, experts say, there’s something you can do to keep your brain healthy – including undergoing hearing tests as early as in your 30s.
In a world that’s becoming increasingly older, the number of people living with dementia is rising, despite the potential for prevention being higher than ever as scientists uncover the factors that lead to this syndrome, of which Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause. Some 55 million people worldwide are currently estimated to be living with dementia.
Alzheimer’s Research UK, the country’s largest charity dedicated to researching dementia, has put together a checklist of things people can do to ward off the risk of dementia once they’re older, including staying sharp, keeping active and connecting with others.
While there are factors increasing our risk of developing dementia that we cannot change – including our age and genetics – there are many others that are due mainly to our lifestyles.
Hearing loss – together with low education, little social contact, diabetes, smoking, obesity, hypertension, depression, physical activity, excessive alcohol consumption, traumatic brain injury and air pollution – has been identified by several studies as one of the factors increasing the risk of dementia in older adults.
Hearing loss and hearing impairment are not just bad in themselves: the conditions have been found to be closely linked to heightened social isolation, another factor found to increase the risk of developing memory loss, confusion and communication issues – all problems that come with dementia.
Keeping an eye out for the risk of hearing loss early in our life is therefore an obvious way of preventing developing dementia as we grow older. Hearing checks, which are normally undergone by young children or older adults, are not common mid-life, especially when no obvious problem arises.
But normalising hearing tests and making them easily available for younger people could be a massive help in avoiding bigger health problems later in life.
Beyond regular check-ups in your 30s, 40s and 50s, experts recommend using hearing aids to prevent hearing loss and suggest people wear ear plugs to protect their hearing while exposed to loud noises.
“In my own research, we found that hearing aid users had a 50 per cent 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”, Dr Sarah Bauermeister, senior scientist at Dementia Platforms UK, said during the launch of Alzheimer’s Research UK new brain check-up tool.
“It is very important that hearing aids are more accessible, more affordable, and can more easily be used by those that have hearing impairment,” she added.
“Our current work is reviewing the difficulties of fitting a hearing aid for someone with mild cognitive impairment or dementia, because although we can see in the research that it does protect against cognitive impairment, if someone can’t fit or use a hearing aid, then this effect is then decreased.
“So regular hearing checks at all population levels is very important and this is across the lifespan so that it’s normalised to have a hearing check whether you’re 30 or 40”.
The brain health check-up tool developed by Alzheimer’s Research UK allows you to discover in what way your daily life is benefitting your brain, whatever your age is, and offers guidance on what you can do to maintain your health that goes beyond taking care of your hearing.
You can find it here, and it only lasts 10 minutes.