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J Speech Lang Hear Res. 2019 Apr 26;62(4S):1117-1130. doi: 10.1044/2018_JSLHR-H-ASCC7-18-0142.

Poorer Speech Reception Threshold in Noise Is Associated With Lower Brain Volume in Auditory and Cognitive Processing Regions.

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Linnaeus Centre HEAD, Department of Behavioural Sciences and Learning, Linköping University, Sweden.
National Acoustic Laboratories and the HEARing CRC, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia.
Department of Cognitive Science, Macquarie University, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia.


Purpose Hearing loss is associated with changes in brain volume in regions supporting auditory and cognitive processing. The purpose of this study was to determine whether there is a systematic association between hearing ability and brain volume in cross-sectional data from a large nonclinical cohort of middle-aged adults available from the UK Biobank Resource ( ). Method We performed a set of regression analyses to determine the association between speech reception threshold in noise (SRTn) and global brain volume as well as predefined regions of interest (ROIs) based on T1-weighted structural images, controlling for hearing-related comorbidities and cognition as well as demographic factors. In a 2nd set of analyses, we additionally controlled for hearing aid (HA) use. We predicted statistically significant associations globally and in ROIs including auditory and cognitive processing regions, possibly modulated by HA use. Results Whole-brain gray matter volume was significantly lower for individuals with poorer SRTn. Furthermore, the volume of 9 predicted ROIs including both auditory and cognitive processing regions was lower for individuals with poorer SRTn. The greatest percentage difference (-0.57%) in ROI volume relating to a 1 SD worsening of SRTn was found in the left superior temporal gyrus. HA use did not substantially modulate the pattern of association between brain volume and SRTn. Conclusions In a large middle-aged nonclinical population, poorer hearing ability is associated with lower brain volume globally as well as in cortical and subcortical regions involved in auditory and cognitive processing, but there was no conclusive evidence that this effect is moderated by HA use. This pattern of results supports the notion that poor hearing leads to reduced volume in brain regions recruited during speech understanding under challenging conditions. These findings should be tested in future longitudinal, experimental studies. Supplemental Material

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