Cortical Neuroplasticity and Cognitive Function in Early-Stage, Mild-Moderate Hearing Loss: Evidence of Neurocognitive Benefit From Hearing Aid Use

Front Neurosci. 2020 Feb 18;14:93. doi: 10.3389/fnins.2020.00093. eCollection 2020.


Age-related hearing loss (ARHL) is associated with cognitive decline as well as structural and functional brain changes. However, the mechanisms underlying neurocognitive deficits in ARHL are poorly understood and it is unclear whether clinical treatment with hearing aids may modify neurocognitive outcomes. To address these topics, cortical visual evoked potentials (CVEPs), cognitive function, and speech perception abilities were measured in 28 adults with untreated, mild-moderate ARHL and 13 age-matched normal hearing (NH) controls. The group of adults with ARHL were then fit with bilateral hearing aids and re-evaluated after 6 months of amplification use. At baseline, the ARHL group exhibited more extensive recruitment of auditory, frontal, and pre-frontal cortices during a visual motion processing task, providing evidence of cross-modal re-organization and compensatory cortical neuroplasticity. Further, more extensive cross-modal recruitment of the right auditory cortex was associated with greater degree of hearing loss, poorer speech perception in noise, and worse cognitive function. Following clinical treatment with hearing aids, a reversal in cross-modal re-organization of auditory cortex by vision was observed in the ARHL group, coinciding with gains in speech perception and cognitive performance. Thus, beyond the known benefits of hearing aid use on communication, outcomes from this study provide evidence that clinical intervention with well-fit amplification may promote more typical cortical organization and functioning and provide cognitive benefit.

Keywords: age-related hearing loss (ARHL); cognition; cortical visual evoked potentials (CVEPs); hearing aids; speech perception; visual cross-modal re-organization.