Listening to music too loudly can lead to dementia

• Music played at 70 decibels or louder puts people at risk for developing hearing problems.
• Hearing problems have been linked to dementia later in life.
• Technology companies like Apple and Android are warning users when music is played too loudly.

Listen carefully: Playing music too loudly through your headphones can increase the risk of hearing loss — and dementia — according to new research.

The analysis from the Acoustical Society of America warns that high levels of noise — 70 decibels or more, or about the same level as a TV — puts people at risk for hearing problems later in life. People who play music at more than 50% volume for an hour or more a day, for at least five years, are the most at risk for losing their hearing.

It’s especially worrisome considering that 50% of people 12 to 35 listen to loud sounds like music frequently during the day, according to the World Health Organization.

Defining excessive noise

Music can increase productivity at work. But like most things, everything comes in moderation.

Researchers from Purdue University said 70 decibels is equivalent to the noise made by a vacuum cleaner. The findings contradict the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health guidelines, which state that 85 decibels is safe for children and teens.

“A noise level that won’t prevent hearing loss in factory workers or heavy equipment operators is far too high for a young child whose ears have to last an entire lifetime,” said Daniel Fink from The Quiet Coalition, a nonprofit dedicated to combating environmental noise pollution. 

How dementia is linked to hearing loss

Cognitive decline has already been linked to hearing loss.

A study published in JAMA Neurology in 2011 found people with even just mildly impaired hearing were twice as likely to develop dementia than those without hearing loss. People with moderate hearing loss were three times as likely to get dementia, and those with severe hearing loss were at five times the risk.

Hearing loss makes your brain work extra hard to process sounds, which can make even simple tasks like walking difficult, said Dr. Frank Lin, director of John Hopkins’ Cochlear Center for Hearing and Public Health, and the lead on the 2011 study.

“Brain scans show us that hearing loss may contribute to a faster rate of atrophy in the brain,” Lin said. “Hearing loss also contributes to social isolation. You may not want to be with people as much, and when you are you may not engage in conversation as much. These factors may contribute to dementia.”

How to protect your eardrums — and brain

Pay attention to how much loud audio you’re listening to on earbuds.

Tech companies have already started warning users about the risks of tuning into high volume content on smartphones. Apple’s Sounds & Haptics app notifies iPhone, iPod touch, and Apple Watch users if they’ve been listening to over 80 decibels for 40 hours over the previous seven days. Android has similar software that warns users about damage to hearing if music is played too loudly.

Consumers should also consider listening to Zoom meetings without headphones on.