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Hearing & Cognition

Did you know that treating hearing loss is the #1 modifiable risk factor for dementia?

That’s right. While this is still a very active area of research, the Lancet Commission has identified several modifiable risk factors that might prevent or delay up to 40% of dementias, which we will address below.
The Lancet Commission attributed the other 60% risk to non-modifiable risk factors, or those that we can’t control, like aging, family history, or genetics. For example, there are some dementias that tend to run in families and are associated with specific genes. Additionally, the odds of developing almost all dementias increases with age.
Certain lifestyle factors that reduce the risk need to happen at a younger age, like getting as much education as possible, but most of them can be addressed in mid- to later life, and the benefits of combining these lifestyle changes are exponential. Recent studies found that incorporating 2-3 healthy lifestyle changes could lower your risk of Alzheimer’s disease by 37%, while engaging in 4-5 healthy behaviours could lower your risk by up to 60%.

More recently, The Lancet published the results of the ACHIEVE study, which looked at the effects of treating hearing loss in those older adults with a greater risk of developing dementia. In that study, it was found that treating hearing loss resulted in a 48% reduction over 3 years in cognitive change vs the control group.

How does hearing loss affect brain function?

It’s important to understand that your ears and your brain are equal partners when it comes to hearing. While the ears pick up the sounds around you, it’s the brain that makes sense of them. The better the quality of the incoming signal, the better the chances for comprehension.
When the auditory cortex becomes under-used due to hearing loss, the other parts of the brain can take over and we can lose the ability to make sense of the sounds we’re hearing. Treating hearing loss can restore this function, but it gets harder to do the longer we wait.
It is widely understood that staying socially connected and keeping your brain stimulated is important in maintaining cognitive function. For those with hearing loss, hearing aids help to do that. People with untreated hearing loss tend to withdraw from social engagements, and can become anxious, depressed, and isolated. These factors all lead to an increased risk of dementia.
Finally, untreated hearing loss increases the risk of falls and accidents, which impacts a person’s short and long-term physical mobility. A recent study done by Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and the National Institute of Aging found that older adults with even a mild hearing loss (25 dB) were nearly three times more likely to have a history of falling. For every additional 10-decibels of hearing loss, the chances of falling increased by 140%. For those with limited mobility, the risk of social isolation and physical inactivity is higher, and these are contributing factors to cognitive decline.
The other risk that accompanies falling is head trauma. Avoiding traumatic brain injury, like concussions, can decrease your dementia risk by 3%.

Hearing Loss and Lifestyle Changes to Reduce Dementia Risk

If we look at the Lancet Commission’s infographic on dementia risk factors, it is clear that treating hearing loss has the potential to decrease risk across several behaviours:

  • Hearing Loss – 8% reduction
  • Traumatic Brain Injury – 3% reduction
  • Depression – 4% reduction
  • Social Isolation – 4% reduction
  • Physical Inactivity – 2% reduction

While the risk reduction here adds up to 21%, studies have shown that combining lifestyle modifications (in this case, 5 of them) can decrease the risk of cognitive decline by 60%.


There is no downside to treating hearing loss, and the benefits are best experienced with early intervention. Studies have shown that treating hearing loss in its mild stages can actually reverse the changes in the brain and improve cognitive function, in addition to slowing the decline and decreasing the risk of dementia.
If you or a loved one think you may be experiencing hearing loss but are hesitant to treat it, we urge you to have a hearing assessment done as the first step in taking control of your cognitive health. At Beck Hearing, the hearing assessment and consultation with our hearing healthcare professionals is always free, and we are not incentivized to sell devices. Our mission is to improve the quality of life for our patients and their families, and to partner with other care providers to ensure a well-rounded, person-centred approach to holistic care.


Livingston G, Huntley J, Sommerlad A, et al. Dementia prevention, intervention, and care: 2020 report of the Lancet Commission. The Lancet 2020.

Lin, F. R., Pike, J. R., Albert, M. S., Arnold, M., Burgard, S., Chisolm, T., … Coresh, J. (2023). Hearing intervention versus health education control to reduce cognitive decline in older adults with hearing loss in the USA (ACHIEVE): a multicentre, randomised controlled trial. The Lancet. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(23)01406-X

Sarant, J., Harris, D., Schembri, A., Lemke, U., Launer, S., Phillips, … Davine, E. (2023, July 16-20). Cognitive function in older adults with hearing loss: Outcomes for treated versus untreated groups at 3-year follow-up [paper presentation]. Alzheimer’s Association International Conference, Amsterdam, NL.

Glick, Hanna A., Sharma, A., Brain and Behavior Laboratory, Department of Speech, Language, and Hearing Science, Center for Neuroscience, Institute of Cognitive Science, University of Colorado Boulder, Boulder, CO, United States

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