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Hearing loss is associated with subtle changes in the brain

Increased dementia risk associated with hearing impairment may come from compensatory brain changes

Date:
November 21, 2023
Source:
University of California - San Diego
Summary:
A team of researchers employed hearing tests and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to determine whether hearing impairment is associated with differences in specific brain regions and affects dementia risk.
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Hearing loss affects more than 60 percent of adults aged 70 and older in the United States and is known to be related to an increased risk of dementia. The reason for this association is not fully understood.

To better understand the connection, a team of University of California San Diego and Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute researchers employed hearing tests and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to determine whether hearing impairment is associated with differences in specific brain regions.

In the November 21, 2023 issue of the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, researchers reported that individuals enrolled in this observational study who had hearing impairment exhibited microstructural differences in the auditory areas of the temporal lobe and in areas of the frontal cortex involved with speech and language processing, as well as areas involved with executive function.

"These results suggest that hearing impairment may lead to changes in brain areas related to processing of sounds, as well as in areas of the brain that are related to attention. The extra effort involved with trying to understand sounds may produce changes in the brain that lead to increased risk of dementia," said principal investigator Linda K. McEvoy, Ph.D., UC San Diego Herbert Wertheim School of Public Health and Human Longevity Science professor emeritus and senior investigator at the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute.

"If so, interventions that help reduce the cognitive effort required to understand speech -- such as the use of subtitles on television and movies, live captioning or speech-to-text apps, hearing aids, and visiting with people in quiet environments instead of noisy spaces -- could be important for protecting the brain and reduce the risk of dementia."

McEvoy designed and led the study while at UC San Diego, in collaboration with Reas and UC San Diego School of Medicine investigators who gathered data from the Rancho Bernardo Study of Health Aging, a longitudinal cohort study of residents of the Rancho Bernardo suburb in San Diego that launched in 1972. For this analysis, 130 study participants underwent hearing threshold tests in research clinic visits between 2003 and 2005 and subsequently had MRI scans between 2014 and 2016.

The results of the study show that hearing impairment is associated with regionally specific brain changes that may occur due to sensory deprivation and to the increased effort required to understand auditory processing stimulations.

"The findings emphasize the importance of protecting one's hearing by avoiding prolonged exposure to loud sounds, wearing hearing protection when using loud tools and reducing the use of ototoxic medications," said co-author Emilie T. Reas, Ph.D., assistant professor at the UC San Diego School of Medicine.

Disclosures: Donald J. Hagler Jr is listed as an inventor on US Patent 9,568,580, 2017, "Identifying white matter fiber tracts using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)." Other authors report no conflicts of interest.


Story Source:

Materials provided by University of California - San Diego. Original written by Yadira Galindo. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Linda K. McEvoy, Jaclyn Bergstrom, Donald J. Hagler, David Wing, Emilie T. Reas. Elevated Pure Tone Thresholds Are Associated with Altered Microstructure in Cortical Areas Related to Auditory Processing and Attentional Allocation. Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, 2023; 96 (3): 1163 DOI: 10.3233/JAD-230767

Cite This Page:

University of California - San Diego. "Hearing loss is associated with subtle changes in the brain." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 21 November 2023. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2023/11/231121175220.htm>.
University of California - San Diego. (2023, November 21). Hearing loss is associated with subtle changes in the brain. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 4, 2024 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2023/11/231121175220.htm
University of California - San Diego. "Hearing loss is associated with subtle changes in the brain." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2023/11/231121175220.htm (accessed March 4, 2024).

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