Central Hearing Loss Is Correlated with Higher Risk of Mild Cognitive Impairment

Tuesday, February 27, 2018 | Dementia & Cognitive Disorders

A preliminary study has been released that shows patients with central hearing loss, (ie, sensorineural hearing loss due to brain/brainstem dysfunction), are twice as likely to have mild cognitive impairment (MCI). Hearing loss is common in people over age 65, affecting approximately 1 in 3 adults; central hearing loss is less typical, affecting closer to 1 in 10 adults at age 65.

Participants in the study were an average of 75 years old and were all enrollees in the population-based Great Age Study, which is being conducted in Southern Italy. Researchers evaluated subjects for cognitive functioning; peripheral age-related hearing loss, caused by inner-ear and auditory-nerve dysfunction; and central hearing loss.

Of the 1,064 participants, 33% had MCI, 26% had peripheral hearing loss, and 12% had central hearing loss. Those with central hearing loss were more likely to have MCI compared to people with no hearing loss. Of the 192 people with central hearing loss, 75% had MCI compared to 60% of participants without hearing loss. Participants with peripheral hearing loss were no more likely to have MCI than participants without hearing problems. Researchers also found that those participants who had more difficulty understanding speech also had lower scores on tests of cognitive functioning.

"These preliminary results suggest that central hearing loss may share the same progressive loss of functioning in brain cells that occurs in cognitive decline, rather than the sensory deprivation that happens with peripheral hearing loss," said study author Rodolfo Sardone AuD, EngD, MPh, at the National Institute of Health and University of Bari in Italy. "It's a problem with perception. Tests of hearing perception should be given to people who are older than 65 and also to people with cognitive impairment." 

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