A review of causal mechanisms underlying the link between age-related hearing loss and cognitive decline.
Ageing research reviews
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Accumulating evidence points to a link between age-related hearing loss and cognitive decline, but their relationship is not clear. Does one cause the other, or does some third factor produce both? The answer has critical implications for prevention, rehabilitation, and health policy but has been difficult to establish for several reasons. First, determining a causal relationship in natural, correlational samples is problematic, and hearing and cognition are difficult to measure independently. Here, we critically review the evidence for a link between hearing loss and cognitive decline. We conclude that the evidence is convincing, but that the effects are small when hearing is measured audiometrically. We review four different directional hypotheses that have been offered as explanations for such a link, and conclude that no single hypothesis is sufficient. We introduce a framework that highlights that hearing and cognition rely on shared neurocognitive resources, and relate to each other in several different ways. We also discuss interventions for sensory and cognitive decline that may permit more causal inferences.