1.1 Billion Millennials Are at Risk for a Condition Linked to Dementia

This surprising age group—and the generation behind them—is at high risk of hearing loss, a condition that is also linked to dementia.

Close up series of a CT scan with human head SeanidStudio/Shutterstock

When you think about hearing loss, you likely imagine that it happens to someone who is older. But research suggests that even people under 40 should be wary. The World Health Organization estimates that 1.1 billion teenagers and young adults worldwide are at risk for hearing loss most likely related to “unsafe use of personal audio devices.” Studies show that nearly 50 percent of young adults ages 12 to 35 are cranking the volume in their earbuds to dangerously high decibels.

Most people aren’t too worried about their ears, but according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 40 million Americans ages 20 to 69 have hearing damage from everyday loud noise. Researchers have estimated that 17 percent of teenagers in the United States show some signs of noise-induced hearing loss in one or both ears. Learn about these surprising things that could ruin your hearing.

In some cases, hearing loss may be linked to dementia. “Research currently shows a relationship between hearing loss and dementia—that is, people diagnosed with dementia have a higher prevalence of hearing loss, and the more severe the hearing loss, the greater the degree of dementia,” says Laurel Christensen, PhD, chief audiology officer at GN Hearing. “While the underlying cause is not completely known, there is enough of a relationship between hearing loss and dementia to warrant the monitoring of one’s hearing sensitivity,” she says. Christensen also emphasizes the need to prevent loss in the first place—and to seek out hearing aids, if your hearing is already damaged. Check out these 10 treatable causes of dementia.

Some experts theorize that the dementia risk may be due to the social isolation that often accompanies hearing loss. Avoiding interactions because you can’t hear what people are saying can mean less intellectual stimulation for your brain—and that could open the door to dementia. Try making a habit of these 9 things that cut your risk of dementia.

When to get your hearing checked

How do you know if you should get your ears checked? Frequently asking friends to repeat themselves or continually turning up the TV volume are signs. “Exposure to loud sounds, such as gunshots or rock concerts, can cause permanent hearing loss,” Christensen explains. “Unfortunately, since the development of the Walkman, and now MP3 and other digital audio players, listeners can experience their own personal rock concerts played directly into their ears for hours on end, day after day. They never allow their ears the opportunity to fully rest or recuperate, and that can turn what may have been a temporary loss of hearing into a permanent one,” she warns. Avoid these other everyday habits that seriously raise your risk of dementia.

If a hearing screening test reveals any loss, it’s important to take it seriously. “It is important to keep the auditory nerve firing and the hearing neurons working by stimulating them with sound,” Christensen says. “Additionally, good hearing helps make social interactions more enjoyable, which promotes a better quality of life.”

The best way to protect your hearing is by maintaining a healthy lifestyle and wearing hearing protection when necessary. Christensen recommends wearing hearing protection at concerts, firing ranges, and motor speedways. If you’re listening to music through earbuds or headphones, ask family or friends if they can hear it: If they can do so from more than a foot away, the volume’s too high.  Don’t ignore these 10 other health issues affecting millennials.

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Carrie Madormo
Carrie Madormo is a business and wellness writer for internationally-recognized publications. Her writing has been featured in Working Mother, USA Today, and the Huffington Post. As a former nurse, Madormo loves to translate complex health studies into engaging content. She is passionate about empowering readers to live their best lives by taking control of their health.