Relationship between Auditory and Cognitive Abilities in Older Adults

PLoS One. 2015 Aug 3;10(8):e0134330. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0134330. eCollection 2015.


Objective: The objective was to evaluate the association of peripheral and central hearing abilities with cognitive function in older adults.

Methods: Recruited from epidemiological studies of aging and cognition at the Rush Alzheimer's Disease Center, participants were a community-dwelling cohort of older adults (range 63-98 years) without diagnosis of dementia. The cohort contained roughly equal numbers of Black (n=61) and White (n=63) subjects with groups similar in terms of age, gender, and years of education. Auditory abilities were measured with pure-tone audiometry, speech-in-noise perception, and discrimination thresholds for both static and dynamic spectral patterns. Cognitive performance was evaluated with a 12-test battery assessing episodic, semantic, and working memory, perceptual speed, and visuospatial abilities.

Results: Among the auditory measures, only the static and dynamic spectral-pattern discrimination thresholds were associated with cognitive performance in a regression model that included the demographic covariates race, age, gender, and years of education. Subsequent analysis indicated substantial shared variance among the covariates race and both measures of spectral-pattern discrimination in accounting for cognitive performance. Among cognitive measures, working memory and visuospatial abilities showed the strongest interrelationship to spectral-pattern discrimination performance.

Conclusions: For a cohort of older adults without diagnosis of dementia, neither hearing thresholds nor speech-in-noise ability showed significant association with a summary measure of global cognition. In contrast, the two auditory metrics of spectral-pattern discrimination ability significantly contributed to a regression model prediction of cognitive performance, demonstrating association of central auditory ability to cognitive status using auditory metrics that avoided the confounding effect of speech materials.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / psychology*
  • Audiometry, Pure-Tone
  • Auditory Threshold / physiology
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Female
  • Hearing / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuropsychological Tests