Dementia risk linked to speech-in-noise difficulty

Photo credit: cottonbro studio

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The Science Alert website recently reported on research published in 2021 the shows a correlation between speech-in-noise difficulty and risk for developing dementia. Speech-in-noise difficulty is a common problem in middle-aged to older people. They can understand speech just fine in a quiet room, but have difficulty following one conversation among many in a noisy environment or understanding what someone says if there is loud background noise. Martin Pienkowski at Salus University in suburban Philadelphia has written about this, as have Dan Guo and Sharon Kujawa in Boston. Current thinking is that speech-in-noise difficulty is the result of noise-induced cochlear synaptopathy.

As one of my mentors often said, correlation isn’t causality. It’s possible that the cause of the dementia isn’t speech-in-noise difficulty, but rather hearing loss associated with speech-in-noise difficulty. It’s also possible that there are other causes of dementia unrelated to hearing issues. But noise-induced hearing loss is entirely preventable and hearing loss is the single largest modifiable condition associated with developing dementia.

There are many other reasons besides preventing dementia to protect your auditory health. Hearing is the social sense, connecting people to people. Many sounds, including conversation, birds in the trees and music, are pleasant. Auditory conditions like tinnitus and hyperacusis are unpleasant and can be life-altering.

Avoid loud noise and your ears should last a lifetime. Turn down the volume, leave the noisy environment or use hearing protection. If it sounds loud, it’s too loud and your auditory health is at risk.

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