TA-1: Misunderstandings About Hearing Loss and Dementia


Over the past decade, some members of the research community, the media, commercial interests and clinicians have spread the message that hearing loss is a risk for dementia.  While true under the strict epidemiologic definition of “risk,” current science is unsettled as to the nature of the hearing loss-dementia link.  Unfortunately, the lay public tends to receive the message as a warning that hearing loss is a harbinger of dementia.   In a recent survey of people with hearing loss and their families, “risk of dementia” was ranked as their greatest worry for the future, ahead of “losing the ability to communicate” and “not knowing whether hearing loss will progress.” It is time to reconsider our messages, not just because “risk” is poorly understood by the lay public, or because the evidence is unsettled.   Crucially, current messages have the potential to stigmatize and raise anxieties for people with hearing loss and their families.  After reviewing the epidemiologic notion of risk, the speaker will critique two current messages that may be stigmatizing, misleading, and/or of questionable relevance to the typical patient: “Hearing loss is the leading potentially avoidable risk factor for dementia,” and “Hearing aids slow the rate of cognitive decline by 48%.”

Learning Objectives:

  • Understand the meaning of the word “risk” as it is used by epidemiologists.
  • Understand the connotations of the word “risk” as it is used in everyday speech.
  • Appreciate the potential for misunderstanding of common messages about hearing loss and dementia risk.