The fight against dementia

With rates of dementia rising globally, we explore an emerging path to prevention within the world of audiology

Every three seconds. That’s the rate as which someone in the world develops dementia today. And looking ahead, the number of people living with this disease is projected to soar from 55 million in 2020 to more than 139 million by 20501

The reality is that while many of us are living longer, healthier lives thanks to continual improvements in health and social care, the global population is seeing an increasingly larger proportion of older people. A demographic often at higher risk of developing dementia. 

According to recent data, dementia is the seventh leading cause of death and one of the major causes of disability and dependency among older people globally2. All of which begs the question, just what can be done to turn the tide?

Reducing the risks

On paper, dementia is the umbrella term for several diseases affecting memory, thinking, behaviour and the ability to perform everyday activities. But in real terms, it’s a condition that could potentially overwhelm society – not only impacting those living with it but caregivers, families, communities, and healthcare systems.  

Though there’s been some advances in recent years in terms of access to care, dementia is still an under-diagnosed and under-treated disease without a cure3. Identifying effective prevention strategies that can reduce the population-level risks of dementia is becoming a growing priority for governments around the world.   

Because while the numbers are rising, dementia isn’t an inevitable part of aging. The research consistently indicates that it can be delayed or prevented by targeting a series of modifiable risk factors – both big and small. 

Hearing loss has been identified as the single largest potentially modifiable risk factor for dementia

According the 2020 Lancet report on dementia prevention, there are 12 potentially modifiable risk factors. These include everything from smoking, obesity and diabetes to excessive alcohol, air pollution, and hearing impairment – the latter identified as the single largest factor.  

The theory is that if we can modify all these risk factors then we might prevent or delay up to 40% of dementia cases worldwide4. And given the evidence available, the Lancet report is keen to stress that it’s never too early nor too late in the life course for dementia prevention. 

Together acting early 

It’s clear that lifestyle factors such as education, diet, exercise, and social interaction are hugely important in reducing the risks of dementia. Yet the reality is that not all risk factors are easily modifiable by individuals on their own – despite their best intentions. 

And considering the eye-watering projections for dementia – the annual cost of dementia is now above US$ 1.3 trillion and is expected to rise to US$ 2.8 trillion by 20305 – public health bodies, policymakers and more will need to work decisively together to reduce the human and economic costs of dementia.

One area where we can expect to see a movement towards greater preventative management is within the world of hearing and audiology. Particularly since recent research now offers tantalizing evidence that treating hearing loss could slow the rate of cognitive decline for high-risk adults by almost 50%6.

An ear to the future 

If the science keeps showing that hearing intervention can significantly modify cognitive decline, then we can expect a bright new future where digital tools, ambitious care partnerships, and innovative support services are widespread within audiology. 

This, of course, will mean more advanced hearing solutions, such as new in-ear sensors and vocal biomarker technologies – utilizing brain health data to empower end-users in self-monitoring and early intervention. 

But perhaps more importantly we’ll see a major change in the way audiology care is delivered – with greater awareness around holistic hearing health, increased access to hearing and cognitive screenings, and ultimately better patient outcomes. 

Together, healthcare providers, policymakers, NGOs, and institutions can drive the movement towards better hearing health

To help drive this change, we’ll need a new partnership landscape of healthcare providers, policymakers, NGOs, and institutions – all advocating for hearing health as a critical factor of our overall health. This will enable earlier, more accurate screenings for dementia as well as better assessments for cognitive decline interventions. 

Shifting the narrative 

All signs point to a potential large-scale shift and movement in how society considers the value of hearing and hearing solutions – that proactive hearing management and the interventions could play a key role in reducing or even preventing the risk of developing dementia. 

As this shift happens, audiology experts will not only be in position to empower more people to take care of their hearing and cognitive health. They’ll be at the vanguard of prevention – enabling better health outcomes for patients and caregivers while helping alleviate the long-term societal costs of dementia. 

Welcome to the future of hearing health.  

As the hearing and dementia story evolves, what will this mean for patients? 

We explore the implications here


  1.  “Dementia statistics,” Alzheimer's Disease International, accessed Nov. 2023, 
  2.  “Dementia,” World Health Organization, March 2023, 
  3.  WHO (2017). Global action plan on the public health response to dementia 2017–2025. World Health Organization. 
  4.  Livingston, G. et al. (2020) Dementia prevention, intervention, and care: 2020 report of the Lancet Commission, The Lancet, vol. 396, issue: 10248, 
  5.  “Dementia statistics,” Alzheimer's Disease International, accessed Nov. 2023,
  6.  Lin FR, Pike JR, Albert MS, et al. Hearing intervention versus health education control to reduce cognitive decline in older adults with hearing loss in the USA (ACHIEVE): a multicentre, randomised controlled trial. Lancet 2023; published online July 18. 
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