Latinos are more prone to hearing loss and diabetes than other demographic groups, resulting in a higher risk for memory loss and poorer learning as older adults. Now health experts say simply wearing one medical device can make all the difference. Photo credit: Jesse Orrico / Unsplash

Latinos suffering from hearing loss may want to consider wearing a hearing aid, for more reasons than just the obvious.

Wearing a hearing aid can actually protect against cognitive declines, yet Latinos with hearing loss are unlikely to wear such devices, with less than 5% doing so, according to a new study published last month in JAMA Otolaryngology.

Latinos are expected to have the highest increase in Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia cases in the U.S. by 2060, but the new findings offer hope.

“This opens up promising avenues for interventions to reduce Alzheimer’s disease risk,” said Ariana Stickel, one of the researchers. “This is something we can change to help prevent cognitive declines, but it is going to take awareness on the part of healthcare providers and their patients.”

As it stands, 12% of Latinos age 65 and older have Alzheimer’s disease or related dementia. Globally, dementia could be reduced by 8% if hearing loss is eliminated, medical experts report.

Researchers from the University of California San Diego School of Medicine took a look at 9,000 Latinos, ages 45 to 74, who underwent hearing exams, cardiovascular and diabetes tests, and cognitive assessments. 

Though previous studies have shown diabetes is a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease, as is hearing loss, few studies have looked at the relationship between the three.

“We were surprised to find that individuals with high blood sugar, and otherwise average cardiovascular health, are susceptible to poorer learning and memory, but only if they also had hearing loss,” said Hector González, the report’s senior author.

The next step is to take a look at what’s happening inside the brain, González said. “Is there a particular region or network in the brain that is susceptible to damage from both hearing loss and high blood sugar? Does this overlap with early brain changes due to Alzheimer’s disease, and how might it be related to learning and memory?”

Latinos are at a greater risk for hearing loss and diabetes than other demographic groups, with 15% experiencing hearing loss and 13% living with diabetes.

Evidence shows age-related hearing loss can be linked to lower socioeconomic status, noisy jobs, and obesity; while risk factors for diabetes can include genetics, eating fatty foods, being overweight, and not getting enough physical activity.

Fortunately, both hearing loss and diabetes are health issues that can be managed, Stickel said. “Connecting our findings to public health solutions that work for Latinos can help mitigate the impending public health crisis.”

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Frank Morris Lopez (he/him/his) is the Arizona lead digital organizer and content creator for Pulso. He is an award-winning multimedia journalist, having worked for media outlets in the Phoenix and Boston areas. He was born and raised in Glendale, AZ, and lived in Cambridge, MA from 2011 to 2018 before returning to the Phoenix area. He has a bachelor’s degree in political science and international relations from Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, AZ, and a master’s in social justice and human rights from Arizona State University.