Mechanisms of the Hearing–Cognition Relationship

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Hearing loss, peripheral hearing, central auditory processing, cognition, older adults


This review provides a description of age-related changes in hearing and cognition, the relationship between hearing and cognition, and several potential mechanisms that underlie the relationship. Several studies have shown a significant relationship between peripheral hearing loss and cognitive impairment/decline but other studies have not. Furthermore, poor performance on measures of central auditory processing has been significantly associated with cognitive impairment. Important to understanding these relationships are the nature of the underlying mechanisms. Possible mechanisms are overdiagnosis, widespread neural degeneration, sensory degradation/deprivation, cognitive resource allocation/depletion, and social isolation/depression. Overdiagnosis occurs when hearing loss impacts tests of cognitive function or vice versa. Widespread neural degeneration can impact hearing, cognition, or both. Sensory degradation/deprivation due to hearing loss can result in neural degradation and reduced cognitive function. Increased demands due to hearing loss can result in changes in neural resource allocation, reducing available resources for cognitive function. Finally, hearing difficulties can cause social isolation and even depression, increasing the risk for cognitive decline. Data from our laboratory provide support for cognitive resource allocation/depletion. Understanding all five of these mechanisms will advance the development of effective interventions and treatments, thereby enhancing the quality of life of older adults.

Citation / Publisher Attribution

Seminars in Hearing, v. 36, issue 3, p. 140-149