The Effect of Cochlear Implants on Cognitive Function in Older Adults: Initial Baseline and 18-Month Follow Up Results for a Prospective International Longitudinal Study

January 23, 2020

Authors: Julia Sarant, David Harris, Peter Busby, Paul Maruff, Adrian Schembri, Richard Dowell and Robert Briggs

Journal: Frontiers in Neuroscience

DOI: 10.3389/fnins.2019.00789

Year Published: 2019


In older adults, hearing loss is independently associated with an increased rate of cognitive decline, and has been identified to be a modifiable risk factor for dementia. The mechanism underlying the cognitive decline associated with hearing loss is not understood, but it is known that the greater the hearing loss, the faster the rate of decline. It is unknown whether remediation of hearing loss with hearing devices can delay cognitive decline. This 5-year international longitudinal study is investigating the impact of cochlear implants on cognitive function in older people with severe-profound hearing loss, and whether remediation of hearing loss could delay the onset of cognitive impairment. This is the first study to examine the major primary risk factors associated with dementia in the same cohort. Participants were assessed before cochlear implantation and 18 months later using an identical battery including a visually presented cognitive assessment tool (Cogstate battery) that is highly sensitive to small changes in cognition and suitable for use with people with hearing loss. Hearing and speech perception ability were assessed in sound-treated conditions by an audiologist, and a range of questionnaire tools was administered to assess self-perceived ease of listening, quality of life, physical activity, diet, social and emotional loneliness, isolation, anxiety, and depression. A detailed medical health history was taken. Pre-operatively, despite the small initial sample size (n = 59), increased hearing loss and age predicted significantly poorer executive function and visual attention, while tertiary education predicted better executive function. Better self-reported quality of life was correlated with better visual learning performance, and engaging in frequent vigorous physical activity was correlated with poorer visual learning performance. At 18 months, for the first 20 participants, significant benefits of cochlear implants were seen in terms of speech perception, communication ability, and quality of life. Multiple linear regression modeling showed executive function improved significantly for non-tertiary educated males, while cognitive function remained stable for other participants. Further follow-up at 18 month intervals with a larger sample will reveal the effects of cochlear implant intervention on all outcomes, and whether this can delay cognitive decline.

Back to Publications