Cognitive screening and assessment tools are frequently used to assess normal and pathological changes in people’s mental abilities, particularly in older age. However, a decline in hearing can frequently occur as we age.
Dr Christian Füllgrabe, has recently published a paper considering whether a decline in hearing may negatively impact cognitive-test performance and thus result in an overestimation of cognitive decline.
In Dr Füllgrabe’s study young normal-hearing university students were asked to perform three memory tasks using speech stimuli that were either unprocessed or processed to mimic some of the perceptual consequences of age-related hearing loss.
Both short-term-memory and working-memory capacities were significantly lower in the group that had simulated-hearing-loss, despite good understanding of the test stimuli. The findings are consistent with the notion that, in case of age-related hearing loss, the processing of sound used in cognitive assessments requires additional cognitive resources that cannot be used toward the execution of the cognitive task itself.
This research may be beneficial to clinicians when considering whether sensory impairments may be a confounding variable when administering cognitive tasks and interpreting their results, as well as to other researchers.