Two hundred and ninety-four adults with no past diagnosis of hearing and memory impairments were recruited online. Participants were assigned into two groups: 217 "young" (age range: 18-35 years, females: 151) and 77 "older" (age range: 50-70 years, females: 50). Participants completed a set of online instruments including an otologic health and demographic questionnaire, a dementia screening tool, forward and backward digit span tests, a noise exposure questionnaire, the Khalfa hyperacusis questionnaire, the short-form of the Speech, Spatial, and Qualities of Hearing scale, the Tinnitus Handicap Inventory, a digits-in-noise test, and a Coordinate Response Measure speech-perception test. Analyses controlled for sex and cognitive function as reflected by the digit span. A detailed protocol was pre-registered, to guard against “p-hacking” of this extensive dataset.
Lifetime noise exposure did not predict SPiN thresholds, self-reported hearing ability, or the presence of tinnitus in either age group. Exploratory analyses showed that worse hyperacusis scores, and a greater prevalence of tinnitus, were associated significantly with high lifetime noise exposure in the young, but not in the older group. Age was a significant predictor of SPiN thresholds and the presence of tinnitus, but not of self-reported hearing ability, tinnitus handicap, or severity of hyperacusis.
Consistent with several lab studies, our online-derived data suggest that older adults with no diagnosis of hearing impairment have a poorer SPiN ability and a higher risk of tinnitus than their younger counterparts. Moreover, lifetime noise exposure may increase the risk of tinnitus and the severity of hyperacusis in young adults with no diagnosis of hearing impairment.
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Munro, K., Millman, R., Lamb, W., Dawes, P., Plack, C., Stone, M., Kluk-De Kort, K., Moore, D., Morton, C., Prendergast, G., Couth, S., Schlittenlacher, J., Chilton, H., Visram, A., Dillon, H., Guest, H., Heinrich, A., Jackson, I., Littlejohn, J., Jones, L., Lough, M., Morgan, R., Perugia, E., Roughley, A., Short, A., Whiston, H., Wright, C., Saunders, G. & Kelly, C.