Aug 2018 The Australian
John Holsgrove with wife Jean at Subiaco
Hearing loss and the social isolation it causes can hasten the onset of dementia, but treating hearing loss can help prevent or delay its onset. Research into patients suffering hearing loss at the not-for-profit Ear Science Institute Australia in Perth has found that patients benefit in other ways by restoring their hearing. Institute head and cochlear implant surgeon Marcus Atlas says there is a clear link between hearing loss and cognitive loss. Addressing hearing loss allows patients to stay in the social mainstream and is especially effective in patients in their 50s or 60s. “We were interested to see if we provide a cochlear implant or hearing aid, will it lead to a different outcome? We think it does,” he said.
Similar findings in the medical journal The Lancet identify more than a third of dementia cases that theoretically could be prevented if risk factors, including hearing loss, are addressed early enough.
The Lancet study found social isolation aligned with peripheral hearing loss was a critical factor in cognitive decline. Even mild cases could raise the risk of dementia. “It’s exciting for us because we’ve spent the last five years trying to understand the link between cognitive loss and hearing loss,” Professor Atlas said. “We began work with mild to moderate patients. The finding that dementia is linked to hearing loss is new, and we contributed to that work.”
Cochlear recipient John Holsgrove said when he realised his hearing was deteriorating, he knew it could also increase the risk of dementia. With several close relatives with Alzheimer’s disease, “it wasn’t my main reason for getting a cochlear implant, but it was certainly a consideration that it would lessen the risk,” he said. The 65-year-old psychologist’s hearing began failing in 2009 and by 2014 he realised he could no longer hear his patients well enough to do his job: “Losing my career was one thing, but the total isolation was a much bigger issue.”