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Peripheral hearing loss at age 70 predicts brain atrophy and associated cognitive change

J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 2024 Apr 3:jnnp-2023-333101. doi: 10.1136/jnnp-2023-333101. Online ahead of print.


BACKGROUND: Hearing loss has been proposed as a modifiable risk factor for dementia. However, the relationship between hearing, neurodegeneration, and cognitive change, and the extent to which pathological processes such as Alzheimer’s disease and cerebrovascular disease influence these relationships, is unclear.

METHODS: Data from 287 adults born in the same week of 1946 who underwent baseline pure tone audiometry (mean age=70.6 years) and two time point cognitive assessment/multimodal brain imaging (mean interval 2.4 years) were analysed. Hearing impairment at baseline was defined as a pure tone average of greater than 25 decibels in the best hearing ear. Rates of change for whole brain, hippocampal and ventricle volume were estimated from structural MRI using the Boundary Shift Integral. Cognition was assessed using the Pre-clinical Alzheimer’s Cognitive Composite. Regression models were performed to evaluate how baseline hearing impairment associated with subsequent brain atrophy and cognitive decline after adjustment for a range of confounders including baseline β-amyloid deposition and white matter hyperintensity volume.

RESULTS: 111 out of 287 participants had hearing impairment. Compared with those with preserved hearing, hearing impaired individuals had faster rates of whole brain atrophy, and worse hearing (higher pure tone average) predicted faster rates of hippocampal atrophy. In participants with hearing impairment, faster rates of whole brain atrophy predicted greater cognitive change. All observed relationships were independent of β-amyloid deposition and white matter hyperintensity volume.

CONCLUSIONS: Hearing loss may influence dementia risk via pathways distinct from those typically implicated in Alzheimer’s and cerebrovascular disease in cognitively unimpaired older adults.

PMID:38569877 | DOI:10.1136/jnnp-2023-333101

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