Bailey Filer is a summer research assistant at DPUK. Read about her project exploring how to reduce dementia risk by promoting the use of hearing aids to correct hearing loss.
There are many ways in which we can protect our brain health and reduce our risk of developing dementia as we get older. We can, for example, stop smoking, reduce our alcohol intake and do more exercise.
One risk factor for dementia that might not spring to mind so readily is hearing loss.
Hearing loss was one of 12 potentially modifiable risk factors for dementia identified in a report for The Lancet led by Professor Gill Livingston of UCL in 2020.
Recent research by a team including DPUK scientists found that hearing loss increases the risk of a precursor to dementia called mild cognitive impairment – but this increased risk is not present in people who wear hearing aids. Furthermore, research shows that people with mild cognitive impairment who use hearing aids have a significantly lower risk of developing dementia and experience a slower cognitive decline.
Correcting hearing loss could, therefore, be a promising global intervention to help prevent dementia or slow its progression – although researchers are still unclear as to why this link exists.
Bailey Filer is a summer research assistant at DPUK who is laying the groundwork for a systematic review of existing evidence around hearing loss, hearing aid use, cognitive decline and dementia.
The ultimate aim is to design an intervention campaign to encourage and facilitate the wearing of hearing aids to correct hearing loss among people with dementia.
We spoke to Bailey, an undergraduate student in Biomedical Sciences at the University of Bristol, about her project, which is funded by an ARUK Thames Valley Pilot Project Award.
Tell us about your project
“My project is titled ‘Hearing aid use in dementia: reviewing difficulties and barriers for users and non-users’. I’m going to be helping with a systematic review looking into previous literature on this topic. I’ll be using a programme called Rayyan to sift through relevant articles and help the dementia and hearing loss research team eventually to write the review.
“I’m working closely with Dr Sarah Bauermeister, DPUK’s senior scientist, and the team also includes Professor Klaus Ebmeier and Dr Danielle Newby of Oxford University, and Dr Magda Bucholc of Ulster University. It’s been really interesting to learn about this subject and to pick up new research skills.”
What do we already know about the barriers to hearing aid use?
“From a practical perspective, we know that people with dementia and those who care for them can have difficulty fitting or looking after hearing aids. Remembering to wear them can also be an issue for people with dementia, as can difficulty with the motor ability required to fit hearing aids.”
What other factors might be involved?
“People may lack confidence or comfort when it comes to fitting and wearing hearing aids. They may also feel embarrassed about wearing them or about having hearing issues that make it difficult to keep up with conversations. This is especially important because social isolation is another risk factor for dementia, and we hope we can address that as a by-product of increasing hearing aid use.
“Other barriers could include finance – people might feel they can’t afford hearing aids if they live in areas where they aren’t provided for free.”
What are the goals of the project?
“Ultimately, we’re trying to determine effective interventions that could help more people with dementia, or who are at risk of dementia, use hearing aids to correct hearing loss. That could be practical advice, an advertising campaign, working with government and policymakers, or other measures.
“We want to help reduce dementia risk and therefore reduce the number of people worldwide who develop dementia.”