Young People Are At Risk Of Dementia Because Of This Rising 'Health Crisis'

A quarter of young people aged 16-35 could be displaying the early signs of hearing loss.

New research carried out by eargym has found that a quarter (24%) of young people aged 16-35 are displaying the early signs of hearing loss.

Researchers analysed the results of a scientifically-validated “speech-in-noise” activity delivered via the eargym app. The activity involves completing a challenging listening exercise which measures users’ ability to detect and process speech over background noise.

Of the 16-35 year olds who completed the “speech-in-noise” check, a quarter (24%) were categorised as having hearing loss. In this context, “hearing loss” is defined as individuals who scored between 1 and 49 in the test, and could therefore process sounds with a signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) between -3.05 to -6.9.

The results showed that a further 19% of users aged 16-35 had “possible” hearing loss, meaning they scored between 50 and 74 in the test, and could process sounds with an SNR between -7 to -8.9.

Overall, hearing loss or “possible” hearing loss was detected in just under half (43%) of 16-35 year olds, whilst only 41% of this group showed no detectable signs of hearing loss at all.

This correlates with recent concerns outlined by the World Health Organization (WHO) that prolonged use of headphones and earbuds, as well as frequently attending live music events is impacting hearing in young people.

Hearing loss can lead to dementia

The findings of the “speech-in-noise” check were corroborated in a second test, which asked users to complete the Amsterdam Inventory for Auditory Disability and Handicap (AIADH): a clinically-validated questionnaire designed to evaluate the impact hearing has on an individuals’ quality of life.

Questions asked included whether users could immediately tell from which direction a car was approaching; whether they could follow a conversation between multiple people at dinner; and whether they could identify the lyrics in songs. Users were given a score between 1 and 100, which was used to determine their hearing ability.

A ‘normal’ hearing score for a 16-35 year old in this test is 64 or higher. In this study, however, almost half (49%) of under-35′s who completed the questionnaire scored lower than 64. According to the researchers, this means that their hearing would be impacting their quality of life more than would be expected.

Of course, hearing loss in itself is a concerning condition but the impact on quality in life as a result of untreated hearing loss puts people at risk of developing dementia.

Around 12 million people in the UK are affected by hearing loss and the condition is associated with social isolation and cognitive decline as well as being one of the biggest modifiable risk factors when it comes to developing dementia.

Additionally, the University College London reported earlier this year that the number of dementia cases could be 42% higher than previously estimated by 2040.

James White, Alzheimer’s Society’s Head of National Influencing, commented: “Dementia is the biggest health and social care issue of our time.”

How to protect your hearing and reduce risk of dementia

Amanda Philpott, CEO and co-founder at eargym, comments:

“Hearing loss is an emerging crisis for young people. The majority of us will experience some form of hearing loss in our lifetimes, but it’s particularly concerning to see an unexpected number of young people worried about their hearing and showing signs of hearing difficulties.

“The good news is: hearing loss is preventable, and we can take proactive steps to look after and improve our hearing at any age.

“We also need to get better at testing our hearing. The only way to understand what’s going on with our hearing is to test it regularly, so we notice when it changes.”

She adds: “Safe listening practices, such as the use of ear defenders, gigplugs and noise-cancelling headphones, can make the world of difference when it comes to protecting our hearing health long into our futures.”