Prevention of dementia due to Alzheimer's disease (d/AD) requires interventions that slow the disease process prior to symptom onset. To develop such interventions, one needs metrics that assess pre-symptomatic disease progression. Familiar measures of progression include cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) biochemical and imaging analyses, as well as cognitive testing. Changes in the latter can sometimes be difficult to distinguish from effects of "normal" aging. A different approach involves testing of "central auditory processing" (CAP), which enables comprehension of auditory stimuli amidst a distracting background (e.g., conversation in a noisy bar or restaurant). Such comprehension is often impaired in d/AD. Similarly, effortful or diminished auditory comprehension is sometimes reported by cognitively healthy elders, raising the possibility that CAP deficit may be a marker of pre-symptomatic AD. In 187 cognitively and physically healthy members of the aging, AD family history-positive PREVENT-AD cohort, we therefore evaluated whether CAP deficits were associated with known markers of AD neurodegeneration. Such markers included CSF tau concentrations and magnetic resonance imaging volumetric and cortical thickness measures in key AD-related regions. Adjusting for age, sex, education, pure-tone hearing, and APOEɛ4 status, we observed a persistent relationship between CAP scores and CSF tau levels, entorhinal and hippocampal cortex volumes, cortical thickness, and deficits in cognition (Repeatable Battery for Assessment of Neuropsychological Status total score, and several of its index scales). These cross-sectional observations suggest that CAP may serve as a novel metric for pre-symptomatic AD pathogenesis. They are therefore being followed up longitudinally with larger samples.
Keywords: Biomarkers; central auditory processing disorder; cognitive function; pre-clinical Alzheimer’s disease; prevention; sensorineural assessment.