Some of the nearly 900,000 New Zealanders (click here) who suffer hearing loss could be at extra risk of developing dementia.
Professor Peter Thorne, a leading New Zealand academic heading up a project to research hearing loss, says the condition has big consequences for brain health and is "increasingly being shown to be an additional risk factor for developing dementia".
"There is a relationship between hearing loss and good brain health," he says. "The problem increases with age so we are working on ways to identify it earlier, to develop measures to prevent and treat the condition, and to help adults age well."
Thorne, who is based at the University of Auckland's Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences, says there are many unanswered questions around the possible links between the illnesses.
He says one theory suggests the brain, if the hearing loss is untreated, can become overwhelmed by years of straining to hear, making those with hearing loss more vulnerable to dementia; while others include the possibility hearing loss could lead to what is a known factor in dementia - social isolation....
...Thorne's work is building on international research. A 2011 study into the links between hearing loss and dementia at the John Hopkins School of Medicine in the United States found elderly people with hearing loss are significantly more likely to develop other cognitive problems and dementia than those who retain their hearing.
The study leader Dr Frank Lin, said hearing loss is a slow and insidious process associated with ageing, and because of this a lot of people ignore it, feeling they are not affected.
Thorne says a major cause of hearing loss, apart from ageing, is exposure to loud noise (a World Health Organisation report estimates more than a billion people worldwide aged between 12 and 35 are at risk from high noise levels in recreational settings)....
...Thorne says balance disorders - including dizziness, spinning sensations, fatigue and ringing in the ears - is estimated to affect four out of ten people: "It contributes to falls in older people and, like hearing loss, good balance function plays a vital role in maintaining brain health," he says. "It too is considered a risk to the development of dementia."...
Fascinating stuff. Imagine an annual hearing check as a lead into larger problems that can be averted.