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Approved Research

Hearing Trajectories at Mid-Life: Cognitive decline and tinnitus from an integrated brain-ageing perspective

Principal Investigator: Professor Nathan Weisz
Approved Research ID: 90485
Approval date: January 26th 2023

Lay summary

The World Health Organization estimates that worldwide approximately 1.5 billion individuals are affected by at least mild hearing loss, a figure expected to increase to 2.5 billion by 2050. The main reason for this anticipated development is the globally increasing lifespan. Indeed, the association between getting older and deteriorating hearing abilities is so strong, it has become almost a cliché. To many, hearing loss is simply an acceptable natural companion of growing old. The present proposal seeks to approach the topic in a unified manner from a brain ageing perspective. Withgrowing popularity in neuroscience, "brain age" estimates based mainly on structural MRI data have been developed. While the link to dementia is intuitive and also finds strong empirical support, it is not established that hearing loss leads to advanced and accelerated brain ageing. With regards to tinnitus, some tentative evidence supports the idea that tinnitus itself may be associated to advanced / accelerated brain ageing.

The current project will integrate two important hearing-loss- and age-related phenomena, cognitive decline and tinnitus, into a novel and empirically tractable framework. These phenomena have been mostly treated in an unrelated manner so far, likely because tinnitus is most commonly seen exclusively as a consequence of hearing loss. If they have been related, then mostly via the interpretation that tinnitus taxes attentional resources.

Three aims will be pursued in the analyses within the next 36 months: (1) Are trajectories of hearing status related to cognitive status changes via brain age advancements or acceleration? (2) Can interindividual variability in extent of cognitive status and tinnitus (vulnerability) changes be attributed to (compensatory) engagement of predictive processes? (3) Are beneficial neurocognitive effects of hearing restoration mediated via the processes identified in (1) and (2)?

New scope:

We aim to further pursue the question whether hearing status and tinnitus (vulnerability) are related to an overall health status, extending the focus on the cognitive status and approaching a more holistic view on the interactions within the human body and brain.