Hearing health and brain health, what is the link?

Now is the time to raise awareness, change perceptions and increase public knowledge around Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia.

Over 55 million people are living with dementia and the number grows every year?1 It is estimated to impact at least 250 million people globally. The cost to society is over 1.3 trillion dollars and rising rapidly every year as well.1

Once minimized and misunderstood as ‘forgetfulness in the elderly’2, dementia is not an inevitable part of aging.

Dementia is an umbrella term for a collection of different progressive degenerative brain syndromes which affect memory, thinking, behavior and emotion. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia and accounts for up to 60% of all cases.1

Symptoms may include:1
• loss of memory
• difficulty in finding the right words or understanding what people are saying
• difficulty in performing previously routine tasks
• personality and mood changes

Dementia is sometimes difficult to differentiate from hearing loss since difficulty communicating is a hallmark of both.

Although each person will experience dementia in their own way, eventually those affected are unable to care for themselves and need help with all aspects of daily life.

What modifiable risk factors are linked to dementia?

Dementia is a disease and there is currently no cure for it. Still, there are medications and treatments available which can help with some of the symptoms and exacerbating factors. Focus is, however, on the importance of care, information, advice, and support to enable independence, and facilitate living at home and in the community for as long as possible.1,3

Many factors have been linked to the development of dementia. Some are risk factors, while others appear to be protective. The greatest risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias is increasing age. Although we cannot change our genes or stop aging, there are changes that we can make to reduce our risk of dementia, either lifestyle changes as individuals or wider changes across society. 4 

A growing body of research evidence exists for 12 potentially modifiable risk factors.4 We might prevent or delay up to 40% of cases of dementia if we were able to modify all of the risk factors.

Although behavior change is difficult and some associations might not be causal, individuals have a huge potential to reduce their dementia risk.

Is treating hearing loss important for brain health?

Hearing loss is increasingly recognized as a risk factor for brain health – especially later in life. It has been identified as the single largest potentially modifiable risk factor for dementia by the Lancet Commission.4 It is estimated that 8% of the modifiable risk of incident dementia in the population can be attributed to hearing loss.

However, research evidence is still building, mainly population based and not always conclusive. It requires long follow-ups and is not speaking to the risk of an individual. Also, the mechanisms for the association between hearing loss and cognitive decline are currently not fully understood.

Today there is insufficient evidence to recommend use of hearing aids to reduce the risk of dementia.5, 6 However, there are good reasons to recommend hearing aids in case of a hearing loss. These reasons include enabling speech comprehension, making it easier to engage in communication and fostering participation in activities and everyday life. Thus, creating positive impact for the well-being of an individual.

The World Health Organization (WHO) strongly advocates in the 2021 World Report on Hearing that hearing screening followed by provision of hearing aids should be offered to older people for timely identification and management of hearing loss.7

Dementia is still often misunderstood by the public as well as the medical community. This is why we want to raise awareness about the importance of brain health including hearing health to promote and maintain healthy living and aging well.

As for whether hearing aid use can delay or mitigate the risk for dementia, this is a hot topic for us in the research community. Sonova is currently supporting several ongoing studies related to this topic. We look forward to sharing the results when they become available next year. Stay tuned!


  1. Alzheimer’s Disease International (2022, Sep 09). About Alzheimer’s & Dementia. https://www.alzint.org/about/
  2. Shenk, D. (2003). The Forgetting. Alzheimer’s: Portrait of an Epidemic. Random House Inc., New York.
  3. Wittich, W., Pichora-Fuller, M. K., Mick, P., & Phillips, N. (2022). Sensory health to support function and wellbeing in people living with dementia. Expert essay In: S. Gauthier, C. Webster, S. Servaes, J. A. Morais, & P. Rosa-Neto (Eds.): World Alzheimer Report 2022: Life after diagnosis: Navigating treatment, care and support. London, England: Alzheimer’s Disease International.
  4. Livingston, G., Huntley, J., Sommerlad, A., Ames, D., Ballard, C., Banerjee, S., … Mukadam, N. (2020). Dementia prevention, intervention, and care: 2020 report of the Lancet Commission. The Lancet, 396:413-46. doi:10.1016/S0140- 6736(20)30367-6
  5. World Health Organization (2019). Risk reduction of cognitive decline and dementia: WHO guidelines. Geneva: WHO. Licence: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO. https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/9789241550543
  6. Sanders, M. E., Kant, E., Smit, A. L., & Stegeman, I. (2021). The effect of hearing aids on cognitive function: A systematic review. PLoS One, 16(12), e0261207. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0261207
  7. World Health Organization (2021). World report on hearing. Geneva: WHO. Licence: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO. https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/world-report-on-hearing