Hearing impairment affects key areas of the brain, contributing to memory loss, a new study has found. 

Previous research has shown that age-related hearing loss is linked to a higher risk of dementia and cognitive decline. While the reasons haven’t been clear, investigators in the current study believe that constant changes in the hippocampus – an area of the brain that processes memory – play a major role.

The researchers studied mice with hereditary hearing loss that is similar to age-related hearing loss in humans. The greater the animals’ hearing impairment, the weaker the brain plasticity in the hippocampus. Greater hearing loss was also tied to spatial memory deficits, wrote Denise Manahan-Vaughan, Ph.D., Ruhr-University Bochum, Germany, and colleagues.

These brain changes shifted constantly as the animals gradually lost hearing. This prevented the hippocampus from working effectively, and “profoundly” altered brain function, Manahan-Vaughan wrote.

The results provide new insights into the relationship between cognitive decline and age-related hearing loss in humans, the researchers concluded.

The study was published online in the journal Cerebral Cortex.