How Can Hearing Loss Cause Dementia?

Neuron. 2020 Nov 11;108(3):401-412. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2020.08.003. Epub 2020 Aug 31.


Epidemiological studies identify midlife hearing loss as an independent risk factor for dementia, estimated to account for 9% of cases. We evaluate candidate brain bases for this relationship. These bases include a common pathology affecting the ascending auditory pathway and multimodal cortex, depletion of cognitive reserve due to an impoverished listening environment, and the occupation of cognitive resources when listening in difficult conditions. We also put forward an alternate mechanism, drawing on new insights into the role of the medial temporal lobe in auditory cognition. In particular, we consider how aberrant activity in the service of auditory pattern analysis, working memory, and object processing may interact with dementia pathology in people with hearing loss. We highlight how the effect of hearing interventions on dementia depends on the specific mechanism and suggest avenues for work at the molecular, neuronal, and systems levels to pin this down.

Keywords: Alzheimer disease; auditory cognition; dementia; hearing loss; medial temporal lobe.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Auditory Perception / physiology
  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Dementia / etiology*
  • Dementia / physiopathology*
  • Hearing Loss / complications*
  • Hearing Loss / physiopathology*
  • Humans