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Dementia is a condition without a known cure, as of yet. Researchers are working tirelessly to discover the possibilities for preventing, slowing, stopping, or even reversing dementia, but no success has been established with total effectiveness. Part of the problem has to do with fragmented understanding of the causes of dementia. Although researchers have not been able to discover a cure, they have made remarkable strides at identifying factors that lead to higher rates of dementia in the population. By working at this level of aggregation, they have not found a way that any one individual can prevent dementia with total certainty. Yet, abiding by some lifestyle habits can make it much less likely that dementia is coming down the road.
Some of these risk factors are lifestyle habits that can be controlled, while others are factors that are out of individual control. In either case, public health officials are eager to promote healthy habits that can lower the risk of dementia, hoping that the more people abide by these principles, the lower the rates will be in the future. One of the risk factors is untreated hearing loss.
Although hearing loss seems like one of those factors that lies beyond individual control, in fact getting treatment is shown to remove that added risk. With treatment options within reach, this finding provides even more reason to schedule a hearing test and to pursue treatment right away.
Risk Factors for Dementia
Without a known cure, controlling risk factors is one of the ways you can make it less likely to develop dementia down the road. Researchers have identified 12 risk factors. Modifying these factors would make it possible to delay or prevent 40% of dementia cases, according to this study. The list includes quite a wide range of modifications. Reducing blood pressure to the range of 130 mm Hg or below is one step you can take. Stopping smoking and limiting alcohol intake to 21 units per week or less are other lifestyle steps that you can pursue. Maintaining an active exercise routine and reducing obesity are other factors that can be taken as proactive steps. However, many of the other factors exist at the social level. Dementia rates are higher in populations with lower education and higher levels of air pollution. The solutions to these problems are in the hands of policy makers and national governments. Head injuries are related to higher rates of dementia, and these individuals can also reduce dementia rates by providing added protection in the workplace. In each case, a healthy lifestyle is related to lower rates of dementia, and the solutions require collaboration between individuals and collectivities.
Treatment for Hearing Loss
A final risk factor that is related to dementia is the use of hearing aids or other treatment for hearing loss. Those who have untreated hearing loss have much higher rates of dementia than their counterparts with no loss at all. However, using hearing aids regularly and effectively can eliminate that increase in the rates of dementia. This pursuit of treatment seems like an individual action that you can take, and indeed it is your own responsibility to get treatment. However, policy makers and governments can promote treatment through subsidies and public health campaigns. Preventing hearing loss is the other half of the equation. Workplaces can emit dangerously loud sounds that damage hearing, leading to the indirect effect of higher rates of dementia. Regulating the noise and mandating the use of hearing protection in the workplace is one step that can be taken for better dementia outcomes in the population at large.
If you have a loved one with untreated hearing loss, the stakes are high for getting that treatment. Not only are benefits waiting in terms of conversational ability and the enjoyment of the sounding world, but the use of hearing aids might even prevent dementia down the road. The first step is a simple one. Schedule an appointment for a hearing test to receive a full diagnosis of hearing ability and loss. With this information in hand, your hearing health professional can pair you with the right set of aids to meet your needs and to protect your future cognition.