Five Possible Mechanisms to Explain the Relationship Between Hearing and Cognition
Fulton et al (2015) report five mechanisms that may be responsible for the often-reported (i.e., significant, albeit weak) relationship between hearing and cognition. The authors state that “most of the evidence examining the relationship between peripheral hearing and cognitive impairment is correlational and cross-sectional in nature. Thus, the cause-effect direction of the relationship is not clear….” These five mechanisms may be present individually or in tandem, across individuals.
- Over diagnosis occurs when undiagnosed hearing loss impacts cognitive tests, or vice versa.
- Widespread neural degeneration may impact either (cognitive or sensory ability) or both.
- Sensory degradation/deprivation secondary to hearing loss may result in reduced cognitive function and/or neural degradation.
- Cognitive resource allocation/depletion occurs when a degraded sensory signal is sent to the brain, which may lead to increased neural resource allocation for auditory processing and may impact (or limit) the resources available for cognitive functioning.
- Social isolation/depression occurs often as a cascading effect secondary to hearing loss to cognitive impairment and can lead to social isolation as well as depression and/or cognitive decline.
Fulton et al conclude that “hearing loss may be a promising indicator of the prodromal stages of cognitive decline. A better understanding of the relationship between hearing and cognition is critical, as intervention prior to dementia onset may be possible….”
For More Information, References, and Recommendations
Fulton SE, Lister JJ, Bush AL, Edwards JD, Andel R. (2015) Mechanisms of the Hearing-Cognition Relationship. Sem Hear 36(3).