Objectives: Facial emotion recognition (FER) is impaired in people with dementia and with severe to profound hearing loss, probably reflecting common neural changes. Here, we aim to study the association between brain structures and FER impairment in mild to moderate age-related hearing loss participants.
Methods: We evaluated FER in a cross-sectional cohort of 111 Chilean nondemented elderly participants. They were assessed for FER in seven different categories using 35 facial stimuli. We collected pure-tone average (PTA) audiometric thresholds, cognitive and neuropsychiatric assessments, and morphometric brain imaging using a 3-Tesla MRI.
Results: According to PTA threshold levels, participants were classified as controls (â‰¤25 dB, n = 56) or presbycusis (>25 dB, n = 55), with an average PTA of 17.08 ± 4.8 dB HL and 36.27 ± 9.5 dB HL respectively. Poorer total FER score was correlated with worse hearing thresholds (r = -0.23, p < 0.05) in participants with presbycusis. Multiple regression models explained 57 % of the variability of FER in presbycusis and 10% in controls. In both groups, the main determinant of FER was cognitive performance. In the brain structure of presbycusis participants, FER was correlated with the atrophy of the right insula, right hippocampus, bilateral cingulate cortex and multiple areas of the temporal cortex. In controls, FER was only associated with bilateral middle temporal cortex volume.
Conclusions: FER impairment in presbycusis is distinctively associated with atrophy of neural structures engaged in the perceptual and conceptual level of face emotion processing.
Keywords: Ekman faces; age-related hearing loss; dementia; facial emotion recognition; presbycusis; semantic memory; social cognition.