Are adults with hearing loss also at risk of attention and memory challenges, and can hearing loss intervention improve these cognitive areas?

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Theses / Dissertations
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Master of Audiology
University of Canterbury
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Batchelor, Karyn

Background: This study investigated the relationship between hearing loss and cognitive decline, and the use of hearing aids as a possible method to potentially combat cognitive aging in a New Zealand cohort. The aims of the study were: 1. Determine if individuals with hearing loss are at risk for selective attention and working memory cognitive deficits. 2. Determine if a 3-week trial of amplification was sufficient to improve, or be likely to arrest, aspects of hearing loss-related cognitive decline particularly, selective attention and working memory. Methods: Selective attention and working memory abilities were measured in an experimental group before and 3 weeks after hearing aid fitting (n=8), a control group with hearing loss (n=27) and a normal hearing group (n=10). Experimental group participants were also administered two, subjective self-assessment, questionnaire-based tools before and after fitting, to survey perceived hearing handicap and aid benefit: the Abbreviated Profile of Hearing Aid Benefit (APHAB) and the Hearing Handicap Inventory for Adults (HHIA). Results: There were significant relationships observed between auditory selective attention task measures and four frequency pure-tone average of both the left and right ear (p < 0.01) suggesting a relationship between hearing loss severity and attention measures. The experimental group participants showed some improvements in both measures of reaction time before and after hearing aid fitting compared to both a control and normal hearing group, although this did not reach statistical significance. Conclusions: This study showed that hearing loss severity appeared to be related to cognition, with the experimental group who underwent a trial of amplification, showing small, but not significant improvements on measures of the auditory selective attention. The size of the experimental group limits conclusions but the results agree with other findings supporting a relationship between cognitive decline and hearing loss (Lin, 2011), and hearing aids as a means to facilitate the reduction of hearing loss-related cognitive deficits (Dalton et al., 2003; Mulrow et al., 1990). Outcomes from these investigations and the current study may lead to increased uptake of hearing aids at an earlier stage, following clinical diagnosis of aidable hearing loss. Together, these findings suggest amplification plays a role towards potentially influencing the advance of cognitive aging – in addition to its established, positive impact on social isolation, communication difficulties, and related emotional hardships – likely improving the quality of life for the growing population of older adults with hearing impairment (Ciorba, Bianchini, Pelucchi, & Pastore, 2012).

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