Steve May 5, 2022
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Hearing, vision loss raise risk for dementia with age, study finds

Older adults who suffer from both hearing and vision loss may be at higher risk for dementia, according to a new study. Photo by Gundula Vogel/Pixabay

May 5 (UPI) — Older adults who have experienced significant vision and hearing loss are at higher risk for dementia as they age, a study published Thursday found.

Compared with adults who have no sensory impairment, those with “dual” hearing and vision loss are nearly three times as likely to develop some form of dementia, the data, published Thursday by JAMA Network Open, showed.

People with dual sensory impairment are also at nearly four-fold higher risk for Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, the researchers said.

“Older adults with hearing and vision problems may be at increased risk for dementia,” Phillip Hwang, a co-author of the study, told UPI in an email.

“Having hearing and vision problems may negatively affect a person’s ability to engage in physical or social activity, or increase risk of depression, which may in turn contribute to the development of dementia,” said Hwang, a post-doctoral research associate in epidemiology at Boston University.

Hearing and vision impairment together can also increase “cognitive load,” essentially over-taxing the aging brain by forcing it to compensate for the diminished senses, he said.

Dual sensory impairment and dementia also share many common risk factors, including older age, heart disease, smoking and alcohol consumption, according to Hwang.

About 6 million people in the United States have some form of dementia, or declining brain function, including memory loss, with Alzheimer’s disease the most common, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

Previous studies have found that loss of sight and hearing can raise a person’s risk for dementia, with some suggesting that those with dual sensory impairment may be 90% more likely to suffer cognitive decline.

Although there are treatments that can help slow the progression of dementia, there currently is no cure, the association says.

Still, new treatments are emerging: For example, early clinical trials in Australia have shown that the drug sodium selenate may slow cognitive decline and neurodegenerative damage caused by many dementias including Alzheimer’s Disease.

Results from the trials, published Thursday by Alzheimer’s and Dementia Translational Research and Clinical Interventions, are promising enough to warrant additional studies, the researchers said.

For the sensory impairment study, Hwang and his colleagues tracked nearly 3,000 adults age 65 and older over a roughly eight-year period.

At the start of the study, 120, or 5%, of the participants had dual sensory impairment, meaning both hearing and vision loss, the data showed.

Over the course of the study, 307, or 11%, of the participants developed dementia, including about half of those with dual sensory impairment.

“Since the relationship between dual sensory impairment and dementia has not yet been established, it is unclear whether interventions or treatments for hearing and vision loss … can modify or reduce the risk of dementia,” Hwang said.

“Until more evidence comes out, trying to engage in a healthy, active lifestyle as much as possible for individuals with dual sensory impairment may be beneficial in terms of limiting their future risk of developing dementia,” he said.

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