Tinnitus is a common condition that can affect people of all ages but can worsen as you get older. Research suggests a link between tinnitus and cognitive decline later in life.

Tinnitus is a condition that causes unexplained ringing, buzzing, or roaring sounds. These are phantom and internal noises only, meaning that others around you cannot hear them.

While tinnitus can sometimes affect children, it’s much more common in adults. In fact, it’s estimated that between 10% and 25% of U.S. adults have this condition. Tinnitus may come and go or become chronic if symptoms last for longer than 3 months.

Chronic and severe tinnitus can lead to certain health complications. These include depression, anxiety, and fatigue. There’s also growing research suggesting a possible link between tinnitus and dementia.

Read on to learn what researchers have found about the link between tinnitus and dementia.

Emerging research suggests a possible increased risk of developing dementia if you have tinnitus. This is especially true in the case of early onset dementia — dementia that develops in early to middle adulthood.

As one 2021 retrospective study reported, adult participants with existing tinnitus were 68% more likely to develop early onset dementia. This included adults under the age of 65. This was considered the first study to define such a possible link between these two conditions.

Early signs and symptoms of dementia

Such findings also suggest that, while dementia risk increases with age, it’s possible for younger adults to develop a loss of cognitive abilities. The Alzheimer’s Association outlines 10 possible early signs and symptoms of dementia to look for:

  • progressive memory loss that interferes with your daily activities
  • misplacing items
  • social withdrawal
  • difficulty with problem-solving
  • problems with completing daily tasks
  • loss of place, dates, and time
  • spatial and visual difficulties
  • new issues with writing and talking
  • mood and personality changes
  • poor judgment

Other potential causes of dementia

Like tinnitus, though, dementia doesn’t have a single cause. Genetic variants are thought to play a role in dementia development, as well as underlying health conditions and lifestyle factors, such as:

Aside from dementia, tinnitus is also linked with cognitive decline.

As a more recent 2024 review and meta-analysis found, tinnitus related cognitive effects were also more pronounced in adults over the age of 60. Researchers noted the following complications:

While this review confirmed the results of the previously mentioned 2021 study of cognitive decline in younger adults with tinnitus, the authors here argue that symptoms and complications are much more pronounced in older adults.

However, as another 2023 research review notes, the relationship between tinnitus and cognitive impairments isn’t straightforward. Researchers here argue that other underlying issues may co-exist, such as vascular impairment (conditions that affect blood vessels and the brain) and auditory (hearing) problems.

In fact, tinnitus is also known as a risk factor for hearing loss in older adults. This can make it more difficult to have conversations with others and may lead to worsening depression and cognitive decline.

If you’re diagnosed with tinnitus, treatment can improve your quality of life while also reducing your risk for dementia and cognitive decline.

Options for treating tinnitus may include:

Treating hearing loss associated with tinnitus may also help prevent social isolation in older adults. This is another risk factor for cognitive decline and dementia.

Also, you can help reduce your risk of developing dementia by adopting healthy lifestyle choices. Consider talking with a doctor about the ways you can:

While research is continuing to explore possible links between tinnitus and dementia, more studies are needed to confirm these findings.

However, if you have chronic tinnitus, it’s worth talking with a doctor about your possible risk of developing dementia or cognitive decline later in life. While there’s currently no cure for tinnitus, there are treatments that can help reduce symptoms and improve your quality of life.

At the same time, you may also discuss ways you can decrease your overall dementia risk, for example, by adopting healthy lifestyle habits and treating any underlying medical conditions.