Aging, cognitive load, dementia and hearing loss

Audiol Neurootol. 2014:19 Suppl 1:2-5. doi: 10.1159/000371593. Epub 2015 Feb 20.


Sensorineural systems play a crucial role in the diagnosis, treatment and management of several neurological disorders. The function of the eye and ear represents a unique window for testing various conditions in cognitive decline or dementia. Touch and smell have also been found to be strongly involved in neurodegenerative conditions, and their decline has been significantly associated with the progression of the disease; hence, the idea that restoring sensory function in cognitively impaired adults might enable a significant improvement in their cognitive status, reducing the worldwide incidence and prevalence of dementia. Not all sensorineural 'windows' can benefit equally from the same procedures; however, hearing and vision can certainly gain the most from dependable therapeutic and other diagnostic options. The ear, including the vestibular system, deserves an honored place among the sensory organs in this context due mainly to the sophisticated electrical devices available that have amply demonstrated their effectiveness in treating hearing loss. Restoring an individual's hearing can reduce the cognitive 'load', i.e. the neural activity needed to understand/recognize the spoken word - an activity that becomes more demanding if the brain is obliged to recruit different neural populations to achieve the same performance, as happens in older adults with sensory impairments. The sensory interfaces may also facilitate the early diagnosis of conditions characterized by a lengthy preclinical phase, as well as enabling noninvasive, follow-up procedures to assess the outcome of rehabilitation measures and distinguish physiological brain aging from neurodegenerative disorders. The present study is a brief literature review on the issues and prospects relating to the unique relationship between hearing and cognitive decline, with a general introduction to the main topics before focusing on rehabilitation training with hearing aids and cochlear implants to combat cognitive decline.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aging*
  • Cochlear Implantation*
  • Cognition Disorders / complications
  • Cognition Disorders / psychology*
  • Dementia / complications
  • Dementia / psychology*
  • Hearing Aids*
  • Hearing Loss / complications
  • Hearing Loss / psychology
  • Hearing Loss / rehabilitation*
  • Humans