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Poor vision and hearing can indicate a risk of dementia
The occurrence of several sensory impairments, such as vision and hearing problems, is associated with an increased risk of dementia in older adults. A combination of such problems massively increases the risk.
At this year's Alzheimer Association International Conference (AAIC) 2019 in Los Angeles, two studies now reported that seeing and hearing difficulties in older people are associated with an increased risk of developing dementia.
Two studies showed a similar connection
Research from the University of Washington School of Public Health showed that impaired vision or hearing increases the risk of dementia, and that impairment in both senses further increases this likelihood. Meanwhile, researchers from the University of California at San Francisco investigated the combined effects of olfactory, tactile, visual, and hearing loss. They found that even minor impairments were associated with an increased risk of dementia and cognitive decline in several ways.
Even very mild impairment increases the risk of dementia
"We are beginning to learn from these new research results that sensory impairments, even if they are very mild, can be associated with an increased risk of dementia, especially if several of them are present at the same time," reports Dr. Maria C. Carrillo of the Alzheimer Association in a press release. Further research is needed to confirm these initial results and to determine whether correcting sensory impairments can reduce the risk of dementia, the expert adds. While recent studies have shown that loss of sensory function increases the risk of dementia, very little is known about the effects of concomitant sensory impairment.
Combined visual and hearing disorders massively increase the risk
In order to understand the effects of double sensory impairment on the development of dementia, researchers at the University of Washington examined the relationship between hearing and visual impairment and the risk of Alzheimer's or other dementia in 2,051 people aged 75 or older. The researchers found that impaired vision or hearing increases the risk of dementia by 11 percent and Alzheimer's by 10 percent. Combined visual and hearing disorders increased the risk of dementia by 86 percent and Alzheimer's by 112 percent. Impairment of more than one sense appears to synergistically increase the risk of dementia, the study's authors report. Assessing eyesight and hearing can help identify older adults at high risk of dementia. Even mild, multi-sensory impairment is associated with dementia and cognitive decline.
Second study confirmed the results
The University of California study looked at a group of 1,810 Americans aged 70 to 79 from the Health, Aging and Body Composition Study who didn't have dementia at the time of enrollment. The researchers evaluated vision, hearing, touch and smell in order to create a comprehensive, multi-sensory functional assessment for each participant. The researchers found that participants with lower sensory function scores significantly increased the risk of dementia and cognitive loss. The risk of dementia was almost seven times higher among the participants in the lowest evaluation quarter of the sensory function in the study population compared to the participants in the highest evaluation quarter, the authors report. This risk was also associated with a slight impairment of the multisensory function. A difference of four points (out of a maximum of 12 points) in the result was associated with a 68 percent higher risk of dementia.
Studies indicate potential intervention options
The results suggest that testing for changes in multisensory function can help identify people at high risk for dementia. The sensory function in several areas can be measured during routine examinations in the healthcare sector with non-invasive or minimally invasive tests. In addition, some forms of hearing and vision loss can be treated or corrected, which offers potential intervention options. However, it is necessary to investigate more closely whether the treatment or prevention of sensory impairments can reduce the risk of dementia. The results of the two studies published at AAIC 2019 show that sensory impairment, especially of multiple senses, is strongly associated with an increased risk of dementia or Alzheimer's. The studies suggest that the assessment of sensory function by healthcare professionals should play an important role in the diagnosis and care of older adults and those at risk of developing these diseases. (as)
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Author and source information
This text corresponds to the requirements of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.
- Vision and Hearing Loss May Raise Risk of Dementia in Older Adults, Alzheimer Association International Conference (AAIC) 2019 (query: 17.07.2019), AAIC 19