President of high-profile B.C. hearing clinic agrees to end misleading claims about dementia

The president of a chain of hearing clinics with 50 locations across B.C. has agreed to stop telling the public, without scientific evidence, that hearing aids prevent dementia.

Marke Hambley of NexGen hearing will no longer use marketing that states hearing loss causes dementia

Marke Hambley is the president and director of operations for NexGen Hearing, which has 50 clinics across B.C. (NexGen Hearing)

The president of a chain of hearing clinics with 50 locations across B.C. has agreed to stop telling the public, without scientific evidence, that hearing aids prevent dementia.

Marke Hambley, founder of NexGen Hearing, has signed a resolution with the College of Speech and Hearing Health Professionals of B.C., promising to stop creating materials that suggest hearing loss causes dementia or that treating hearing issues can prevent cognitive impairment.

Hambley has also agreed to remove public access to certain marketing materials, and only make claims about a link between hearing loss and dementia with "appropriate levels of scientific support," according to the resolution.

College registrar Cameron Cowper told CBC in an email that the resolution is about protecting the public interest.

"The college is particularly concerned by marketing that invokes the risk of dementia as that condition can cause significant anxiety amongst the general public," Cowper said.

"The college does not allow marketing by registrants which suggests a direct causal link between hearing loss and dementia or which is likely to leave a member of the public with the impression that hearing aids can reduce their risk of dementia."

Former TV news anchor Tony Parsons, shown at left with Marke Hambley, is a spokesperson for NexGen Hearing. (NexGen Hearing)

NexGen Hearing has a high profile in B.C., boasting former CBC TV news anchor Tony Parsons as a spokesperson. The company's audiologists have made frequent appearances in the media, occasionally claiming a link between hearing loss and other health problems, including dementia and depression.

But while some scientific studies have found a correlation between hearing loss and cognitive decline, the question of whether one actually causes the other is still in dispute.

Nonetheless, archived versions of NexGen's website show sections that once suggested untreated hearing loss "can lead to isolation, depression, and other cognitive issues including dementia."

This archived version of a page on NexGenHearing.com makes unproven claims about hearing loss causing dementia. (NexGen Hearing)

Those references have been scrubbed since Hambley signed his resolution with the college on Jan. 24.

College bylaws require that "registrants not engage in marketing that is reasonably capable of misleading a member of the public or exploits the public's lack of knowledge of a professional subject area," the resolution says.

Hambley has not responded to requests for comment.

About the Author

Bethany Lindsay

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Bethany Lindsay has more than a decade of experience in B.C. journalism, with a focus on the courts, health and social justice issues. She has also reported on human rights and crimes against humanity in Cambodia. Questions or news tips? Get in touch at bethany.lindsay@cbc.ca or on Twitter through @bethanylindsay.

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