Importance: The association between hearing impairment and cognitive decline has been established; however, the effect of cochlear implantation on cognition in profoundly deaf elderly patients is not known.
Objective: To analyze the relationship between cognitive function and hearing restoration with a cochlear implant in elderly patients.
Design, setting, and participants: Prospective longitudinal study performed in 10 tertiary referral centers between September 1, 2006, and June 30, 2009. The participants included 94 patients aged 65 to 85 years with profound, postlingual hearing loss who were evaluated before, 6 months after, and 12 months after cochlear implantation.
Interventions: Cochlear implantation and aural rehabilitation program.
Main outcomes and measures: Speech perception was measured using disyllabic word recognition tests in quiet and in noise settings. Cognitive function was assessed using a battery of 6 tests evaluating attention, memory, orientation, executive function, mental flexibility, and fluency (Mini-Mental State Examination, 5-word test, clock-drawing test, verbal fluency test, d2 test of attention, and Trail Making test parts A and B). Quality of life and depression were evaluated using the Nijmegen Cochlear Implant Questionnaire and the Geriatric Depression Scale-4.
Results: Cochlear implantation led to improvements in speech perception in quiet and in noise (at 6 months: in quiet, 42% score increase [95% CI, 35%-49%; P < .001]; in noise, at signal to noise ratio [SNR] +15 dB, 44% [95% CI, 36%-52%, P < .001], at SNR +10 dB, 37% [95% CI 30%-44%; P < .001], and at SNR +5 dB, 27% [95% CI, 20%-33%; P < .001]), quality of life, and Geriatric Depression Scale-4 scores (76% of patients gave responses indicating no depression at 12 months after implantation vs 59% before implantation; P = .02). Before cochlear implantation, 44% of the patients (40 of 91) had abnormal scores on 2 or 3 of 6 cognition tests. One year after implant, 81% of the subgroup (30 of 37) showed improved global cognitive function (no or 1 abnormal test score). Improved mean scores in all cognitive domains were observed as early as 6 months after cochlear implantation. Cognitive performance remained stable in the remaining 19% of the participants (7 of 37). Among patients with the best cognitive performance before implantation (ie, no or 1 abnormal cognitive test score), 24% (12 of 50) displayed a slight decline in cognitive performance. Multivariate analysis to examine the association between cognitive abilities before implantation and the variability in cochlear implant outcomes demonstrated a significant effect only between long-term memory and speech perception in noise at 12 months (SNR +15 dB, P = .01; SNR +10 dB, P < .001; and SNR +5 dB, P = .02).
Conclusions and relevance: Rehabilitation of hearing communication through cochlear implantation in elderly patients results in improvements in speech perception and cognitive abilities and positively influences their social activity and quality of life. Further research is needed to assess the long-term effect of cochlear implantation on cognitive decline.