Speech hearing in noise as a predictor of cognitive decline in middle-age

Chief investigator

Dr Heather Fortnum (Retired)

Study team

Dr Abby Hunter
Professor Dave Moore

Dr Mark Edmondson-Jones
Dr Piers Dawes
Professor Tom Dening
Professor Kevin Munro


NIHR Nottingham Hearing BRU programme

Study period

2012 - 2015

Background and rationale

Hearing loss is known to be associated with aspects of cognitive (thinking) function.  However, the relationship between hearing loss and subsequent cognitive decline is not fully understood.  Both hearing and cognitive function tend to decline with age.  We aim to investigate whether the ability to hear speech over a noisy background is predictive of subsequent cognitive decline.  We will also examine whether any accelerated cognitive decline can be alleviated by the use of hearing aids.


We are using data from the UK Biobank programme to investigate whether difficulty perceiving speech against a background noise is predictive of accelerated cognitive decline.  UK Biobank, a broad assessment of health in UK resident people aged 40-69 between 2006-10.  170,657 participants provided initial data with 4,720 of these providing data in follow-up assessments.  Hearing was tested using a speech-in-noise test comprising identification of spoken digit triplets (for example “two-six-one”) against background noise.  Participants then keyed the digits on a touchscreen number pad.  Cognitive tests included measures of general intelligence, reaction time, shape pairs matching and prospective memory.  Using data from these tests we derived latent factors – i.e. general indices of cognitive performance.   Cognitive decline with regard to the values of these latent factors was investigated while accounting for other factors that might account for cognition like age, sex, socioeconomic status, etc.


Biobank logo


Participant test