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The link between hearing loss and dementia among key factors in prevention

More than 1/3 of dementia cases could be avoided with lifestyle changes from controlling high blood pressure to getting more exercise.

Dr. Taylor Finseth from Aurora Health Care says he is especially intrigued with findings in the study that say more than 35% of cases are preventable and that there appears to be a link between hearing loss and dementia in about 9% of cases.

Here are the key factors identified in the report:

1. Limited education. People with very little formal education, which the researchers define as stopping before secondary school, are at an increased risk of developing dementia.

" We think the higher the level of education, the more protected by building rich circuitry within the brain," explained Dr. Finseth. "Even if you develop the disease you have some protection that's called cognitive reserve."

2. Hypertension. Most patients with dementia also show signs of problems with the blood vessels in their brain, and dementia and high blood pressure are closely linked.

3. Obesity. While the new report does not make any specific dietary recommendations, the researchers did point to obesity as a key risk factor in mid-life, especially those who develop a hormonal condition called insulin resistance, may have higher levels of inflammation throughout their bodies and problems with hormone production in the brain that can lead to impaired cognition.

4. Hearing loss. Hearing loss affects nearly a third of people over 55, the researchers write, but the idea that it may be a risk factor for dementia is relatively new. While scientists are not yet sure why hearing problems have been linked to cognitive decline, there are at least two theories.

"We don't know if hearing loss is cause or whether its associated with other factors that may be causing dementia, vascular disease or traumatic brain injury, all associated with hearing loss," said Dr. Finseth. "The other thing that's not clear is we don't know if treating hearing loss with hearing adis would modify that risk. We need better research to understand how hearing loss is associated with dementia and if treating it would help."

5. Smoking. The link between smoking and dementia may be related to the many ill effects smoking has on cardiovascular health. But cigarette smoke also contains substances that are toxic to the brain, further compounding the risk.

6. Depression. While there are definite links between depression and dementia, scientists are still trying to determine whether it's truly a risk factor for dementia or just an early symptom of it.

7. Physical inactivity. "Older adults who exercise are more likely to maintain cognition than those who do not exercise," the researchers write. While there's only limited evidence that shows physical activity may help prevent cognitive decline, research on thousands of people suggests it seems to have some protective effects.

8. Social isolation. Loneliness and a lack of physical contact, especially later in life, are linked to a constellation of health problems, including heart disease, high blood pressure, and depression. So it's no surprise social isolation is linked to an increased risk of dementia as well.

9. Diabetes. Diabetes is a potential risk for many of the same reasons as obesity, and controlling diabetes may also help act as a brake against early cognitive impairment progressing into full-blown dementia.

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