Hidden Hearing survey shows little understanding of dementia incidence, risk factors or symptoms
Just 1 in 4 adults in Ireland (25%) are aware that hearing loss is associated with the early onset of dementia. The figure drops to 1 in 5 among the 40-49 age group, as well as among those who do not have a relative who has the cognitive impairment.
Under 2 in 10 adults, aged over 40, (16%) are aware that kidney disease is also linked to developing dementia, making it the least known associated health factor.
Current estimates indicate there are 64,000 people living with dementia in Ireland, the majority of whom live within their own community. This number is predicted to double by 2046, with Alzheimer’s being the most common form of disease.
The study carried out by Opinions Market Research, on behalf of Hidden Hearing, is a corporate initiative by the hearing healthcare specialists, to create awareness of the growing incidence of dementia, and the efforts to limit risk and support those dealing with a diagnosis.
509 adults, aged over 40, in the Republic of Ireland were surveyed. 4 in 10 adults (39%) have a relative who has been diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, with 4 in 10 of these adults then providing care for that relative; 14% of the population in dementia caring roles.
Most people with dementia are over 65, but it is not a normal part of ageing. Dementia also affects younger people, described as having ‘early’ or ‘young onset’ dementia. The study found that adults aged 40-49 have the lowest awareness of causal connections and symptoms related to dementia.
Despite low awareness in the survey, Dolores Madden, Marketing Director and Audiologist at Hidden Hearing, confirms that hearing loss is now known to be a potentially preventable cause of dementia.
“Medical research is building the case that hearing loss is one of the biggest modifiable risk factors for dementia, and that wearing hearing aids, when needed, mitigates that risk. Other factors like high blood pressure and lower education can also be remedied through medication and lifestyle changes, from diet and exercise to engaging in mentally stimulating activities.”
A study from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, in Baltimore, USA, followed 600 adults for 12 years and found that mild hearing loss doubled the risk of dementia. Moderate hearing loss tripled someone's risk, and severe hearing loss increased the risk by five times.
Another study, published last year in the U.K. medical journal, The Lancet, found that people with untreated hearing loss have a higher chance of developing dementia, compared to those without hearing loss. However, the increased risk isn't seen in those with hearing loss who use hearing aids.
Using hearing aids appears to have a positive impact, the study concluded, potentially reducing the risk of different types of dementia. If causality is established through more research, authors in the study wrote, ‘hearing aids will present a minimally invasive, cost-effective intervention to mitigate all, or at least some, of the effect of hearing loss on dementia.’
Health and Environmental Factors
The Irish awareness research also questioned the symptoms of dementia, as well as the health and environmental factors associated with developing dementia.
While links to hearing loss and kidney disease were least likely to be recognised, around half of respondents correctly suggested loneliness or social isolation (61%), immobility or sitting a lot (51%) and untreated depression (48%) were linked to increased risk of dementia.
On recognising dementia symptoms, over 9 in 10 (94%) adults are aware that memory loss is a symptom of dementia, while just over half (55%) are aware that obsessive behaviour or suspicion are indications of the condition.
Thinking speed and mental sharpness (81%), using words incorrectly, or trouble speaking, (75%) and mood change, like anger or depression (71%) are relatively better-known aspects of dementia.
There are several warning signs when it comes to dementia, and having memory problems alone does not necessarily mean a diagnosis, according to Dr. Sabina Brennan, an Irish neuroscientist and psychologist.
“Dementia is really a term for a collection of symptoms, and dementia patients can have a range of challenges affecting their memory, thinking, and the ability to perform daily activities.
“Age, specifically being over 70, is the most likely factor for developing dementia, but head injury and cardiovascular problems also make it more likely a patient will develop dementia in later life. A range of social and environmental factors impact likelihood of developing dementia, including education levels, hypertension, hearing impairment, smoking, obesity, depression, physical inactivity, diabetes, and infrequent social contact.
“So, it is a question of doing what we can to minimise risk, and to change the trajectory of the disease, while a cure for dementia and Alzheimer’s disease still eludes us.” Dr. Brennan explains.
About Hidden Hearing
Ireland’s longest-established exclusive hearing care specialist, with over 35 years’ experience, Hidden Hearing provides free hearing tests and free sample hearing aids at 89 local clinics across Ireland. Hidden Hearing is part of Demant Group, a world-leading hearing healthcare group that provides life-changing hearing healthcare and intelligent audio solutions in over 130 countries.
Opinions Market Research: n=509 sample of adults aged 40+ in ROI. The error margin for this data is estimated at +/- 4.43%
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