If you only have difficulty hearing speech and following conversations in noisy settings, like when hanging out with friends at Airline Brewing Company, you may think your hearing isn’t that bad and you don’t need to seek treatment. However, recent research shows that trouble hearing speech in noise is linked to an increased risk of developing dementia.
About the Research
The study, entitled “Speech-in-noise hearing impairment is associated with an increased risk of incident dementia in 82,039 UK Biobank participants,” was published in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia in July 2021. The researchers sought to uncover the effects of the “cocktail party problem.”
What Is the Cocktail Party Problem?
The cocktail party problem describes trouble focusing on an individual speaker or following a conversation when in a noisy environment, like at a cocktail party. Most people are able to filter out background noise and focus on their conversation partner, but this task is more difficult for those who suffer from hearing loss or cognitive decline.
The researchers selected 82,039 participants over the age of 60 from the ongoing dementia study UK Biobank for this research project. All these participants underwent tests that measured their ability to hear speech in background noise. Then they were categorized based on performance.
At the start of the study, none of the participants had dementia. Eleven-year follow-ups revealed that 1,285 had developed dementia. The group that performed worst on the speech-in-noise tests were shown to be especially at risk.
Significance of These Results
It’s a common misconception that memory problems are the only symptom of dementia, when in fact many people who have dementia experience the cocktail party problem. This study suggests that hearing changes aren’t just a symptom of dementia, but a risk factor that can be treated.
According to study authors, “[Speech in noise] hearing impairment is independently associated with incident dementia, providing further evidence for hearing impairment as a potential modifiable dementia risk factor.”
What This Means for You
If you’re having trouble hearing speech in background noise, you should be tested right away for hearing loss. If your audiogram indicates a loss, listen to your audiologist and seek treatment promptly. Hearing aids have been associated with a delayed diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
For more information or to schedule an appointment, call Audiology Center of Maine.