Objective: Many tinnitus patients report cognitive deficits such as concentration and attention difficulties. The aim of this study was to comprehensively assess cognitive functioning in tinnitus patients using a standardized test battery, the repeatable battery for the assessment of neuropsychological status adjusted for hearing impaired individuals (RBANS-H).
Study design: Cross-sectional study.
Setting: Tertiary referral center.
Participants: Twenty-eight chronic tinnitus patients and 28 control participants, matched for sex, age, hearing loss, and education level.
Main outcome measures: All participants completed the RBANS-H, which includes subtests probing immediate and delayed memory, visuospatial capabilities, language, and attention. The tinnitus patients completed the tinnitus functional index (TFI), a visual analogue scale (VAS) measuring subjective mean tinnitus loudness and the hyperacusis questionnaire (HQ).
Results: The total RBANS-H scores did not differ between tinnitus patients and controls. However, on the language subscale, mean scores of the tinnitus group (97.6 ± 11.0) were significantly lower than those of controls (104.4 ± 12.0), with correction for sex, age, hearing level, and education level (general linear model: p = 0.034). Post hoc t tests revealed a specific deficit concerning the semantic fluency subtest (tinnitus: 19.5 ± 6.2; control: 23.1 ± 5.9; p = 0.015). VAS scores for tinnitus loudness were negatively correlated to scores on the RBANS-H attention subscale (r = -0.48, p = 0.012).
Conclusions: The current study successfully employed the RBANS-H to provide a broader view on cognitive functioning in tinnitus patients. The results showed a specific negative influence of tinnitus on verbal fluency, which could be related to a deficit in executive cognitive control. Moreover, patients experiencing louder tinnitus performed worse on specific subtests concerning attention.