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Dementia Experts Call for Brain Health Focus in NHS Check

Editor's note: An error in the story was corrected, so that it says 150 minutes (not hours).

Offering hearing checks to people as young as 30 could make an important contribution to reducing the risk of developing dementia in later life, experts suggested. Hearing impairment has been listed as one of 12 main factors that could contribute to a decline in brain health and has been included in a new dementia risk digital check aid developed by Alzheimer's Research UK.

Dr Sarah Bauermeister, senior scientist at Dementia Platforms UK, said: "In my own research, we found that hearing aid users had a 50% lower risk of mild cognitive impairment if they wore their hearing aid for their hearing impairment compared to those who did not use their hearing aids." The devices could help with social isolation "which is another one of our risk factors" because of its association with poor mental health and depression, "which can double the risk of dementia on its own", she told a briefing hosted by the Science Media Centre.

According to Dr Bauermeister, routine hearing checks among people in their 30s and 40s could "normalise the wearing of a hearing aid, and the stigma will then be reduced".

Brain Health Survey

A YouGov survey for Alzheimer's Research UK found that 35% of 2198 UK adults polled said they had concerns about their hearing, but that 59% of those had not done anything about it.

Overall, 98% of respondents had 'room for improvement' when it came to protecting their brain health, the results revealed. Among other results from the poll:

  • 31% of the public said they achieved 7 hours of quality sleep a night
  • 27% managed brain challenging activities each day
  • 22% said they never managed the recommended 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week, whilst 26% said they reached the target only occasionally
  • 61% reported having their blood pressure checked in the past 12 months

Revamping the NHS Health Check

The charity has launched a Think Brain Health Check-in which prompts users to answer questions about factors that could be influencing the health of their brains. The digital tool, which is aimed principally at people in their 40s and 50s, was not intended for diagnosis or treatment, it stressed.

Dr Charles Marshall, clinical senior lecturer in dementia at the Preventive Neurology Unit of Queen Mary University of London, said early personalised interventions aimed at protecting brain health might start with "an updated NHS health check that includes a major brain health focus".

Professor Jonathan Schott, chief medical officer at Alzheimer's Research UK, said there was "strong genetic component to getting dementia", but that "we now know that up to 40% of worldwide dementia risk is potentially modifiable". He told the briefing that there were at least 12 factors, "which operate at different stages during the life course", that could influence brain health outcomes.

The 12 risk factors, as set out in a 2020 report of the Lancet Commission, are smoking, hearing impairment, less education, traumatic head injury, depression, high blood pressure, physical inactivity, air pollution, excessive alcohol consumption, obesity, diabetes, and infrequent social contact.