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Noisier and More Forgetful? Yale Scientist Explores Auditory Underpinnings of Dementia

January 08, 2024
by Cecelia Smith

If you’ve ever wept to Adele, been transported to Paris by “La Vie en Rose,” or revisited adolescent struggles when the Backstreet Boys played, you know that sound can evoke strong emotions; indeed, sound is well-studied as a nostalgic medium. Less understood, however, is the long-term effects of too much sound on memory.

Yale otolaryngologist and surgeon-scientist, Hong-Bo Zhao, MD, PhD, hypothesizes that increased exposure to noise may contribute to the rising rates of Alzheimer’s disease (AD), a common neurodegenerative disease characterized by progressive cognitive decline.

The National Institute on Aging awarded Dr. Zhao a three-year, $2.4M, research grant (R01) to test his hypothesis. The proposal, “The effect of noise induced hearing loss on Alzheimer’s disease development and progression” investigates how noise can cause inflammation in the brain, leading to the development and progression of Alzheimer's.

“We know that noise is a common risk factor for hearing loss. We also know that hearing loss can accelerate cognitive decline. What we’re particularly interested in exploring is whether increased exposure to noise can accelerate AD onset; and if so, whether we can use these findings as the foundation for development of preventive and therapeutic therapies,” said Dr. Zhao.

Dr. Zho’s research comes at a poignant time. According to the 2023 edition of the Alzheimer’s Association annual report, more than six million Americans are living with the disease. By 2050, this number is projected to triple to nearly 13 million.

At the same time, the world is getting louder. In fact, the acoustics of the American outdoors doubles or triples every 30 years, according to the National Park Service. All major cities from New York to Beijing have extreme noise.

“Our environment is becoming more and more noisy due to traffic, TV, and wide use of personal audio and video devices,” said Dr. Zhao. “Noise-induced hearing loss will impact many of us, and understanding the consequences of this on our cognitive health will be critical to develop proactive diagnostics and therapeutic interventions.”

Understanding the consequences of this on our cognitive health will be critical to develop proactive diagnostics and therapeutic interventions.

Hong-Bo Zhao, MD, PhD

Dr. Zhao has nine lab members supporting his research at Yale, where he works alongside National Institutes of Health-funded investigators in the hearing sciences, including Joseph Santos-Sacchi, PhD.

The grant discussed in this article was awarded by the National Institute on Aging under Award Number 1RF1AG082216-01.

Submitted by Elisabeth Reitman on January 09, 2024