Epidemiological evidence shows an association between hearing loss and dementia in elderly people. However, the mechanisms that connect hearing impairments and cognitive decline are still unknown. Here we propose that a suprathreshold auditory-nerve impairment is associated with cognitive decline and brain atrophy. Methods: audiological, neuropsychological, and brain structural 3-Tesla MRI data were obtained from elders with different levels of hearing loss recruited in the ANDES cohort. The amplitude of waves I (auditory nerve) and V (midbrain) from auditory brainstem responses were measured at 80 dB nHL. We also calculated the ratio between wave V and I as a proxy of suprathreshold brainstem function. Results: we included a total of 101 subjects (age: 73.5 ± 5.2 years (mean ± SD), mean education: 9.5 ± 4.2 years, and mean audiogram thresholds (0.5-4 kHz): 25.5 ± 12.0 dB HL). We obtained reliable suprathreshold waves V in all subjects (n = 101), while replicable waves I were obtained in 92 subjects (91.1%). Partial Spearman correlations (corrected by age, gender, education and hearing thresholds) showed that reduced suprathreshold wave I responses were associated with thinner temporal and parietal cortices, and with slower processing speed as evidenced by the Trail-Making Test-A and digit symbol performance. Non-significant correlations were obtained between wave I amplitudes and other cognitive domains. Conclusions: These results evidence that reduced suprathreshold auditory nerve responses in presbycusis are associated with slower processing speed and brain structural changes in temporal and parietal regions.
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© 2020 Delano et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.