Tinnitus may lead to various complications, including sleep problems, anxiety, and depression. There may also be a link between tinnitus and cognitive difficulties, including memory loss.

A person with tinnitus hears ringing, whooshing, or other sounds in one or both ears. Tinnitus may have links to a decline in cognitive function, which refers to a person’s ability to think, learn, and remember.

This article examines whether tinnitus can impair memory and why this may occur. It also looks at possible links between tinnitus and dementia, what to do about memory loss from tinnitus, and whether tinnitus could improve memory for some people.

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The link between tinnitus and cognitive impairment remains unclear. However, various studies have found links between tinnitus and cognitive impairments, including problems with memory.

Researchers of a 2020 study suggest tinnitus could affect various aspects of cognitive performance. According to their review of studies, which includes data on 1,863 people with tinnitus, the researchers associate the condition with a decline in:

  • general short-term memory
  • processing speed
  • general learning and retrieval
  • executive function

Another 2020 study suggests that tinnitus may indirectly affect working memory. The researchers suggest that emotional distress from tinnitus may contribute to overall cognitive decline and problems with working memory.

Research from 2024 suggests that tinnitus may increase a person’s risk of cognitive impairments, such as memory decline, especially in people 60 years and older.

Researchers suggest several potential reasons why tinnitus may contribute to memory impairment.

Lack of focus

Tinnitus may cause a persistent, sometimes constant perception of sound. The constant sound may be distracting, making it more difficult for a person to concentrate and focus.

Some people with tinnitus may have to expend more effort than usual to concentrate on information or speech. This can affect their brain processes and stores information, making it more difficult to recall memories.

Hearing loss

Tinnitus has strong associations with hearing loss, and most people with the condition experience some level of auditory decline.

Various studies have found links between even low levels of hearing loss and memory impairment.

According to 2020 research, people with hearing loss may also be more likely to develop dementia. The researchers suggest this may be due to structural changes in the brain.

Anxiety and depression

Researchers associate tinnitus with various mental health disorders, including anxiety and depression. The condition can cause emotional and psychological distress, which may lead to or worsen mental health complications.

Anxiety and depression can affect how memory functions. Researchers have found that anxiety can significantly worsen working memory, while depression can disrupt a person’s ability to recall memories.

Sleep problems

Tinnitus may disrupt sleep or make it difficult for a person to fall asleep. Insomnia or sleep disturbances from tinnitus can worsen symptoms of the condition and may affect memory.

During sleep, the brain maintains and strengthens various functions of memory, which affect long-term and short-term memory. Sleep deprivation can affect these functions, which can lead to memory impairment.

People with tinnitus may have a higher risk of dementia, although more research is necessary to determine whether there are significant causal links between the two conditions.

Researchers of a 2021 study suggest that people with tinnitus could have an increased risk of developing early onset dementia. However, the researchers highlight that the causal mechanisms between tinnitus and dementia remain unknown.

A 2024 systematic review of 17 studies suggests a significant link between tinnitus and dementia. According to the studies the researchers reviewed, there was a notable increase in dementia incidence and progression in those with tinnitus.

People with tinnitus also commonly experience hearing loss, which researchers associate with dementia.

People need to contact a doctor if they think they are experiencing memory loss due to tinnitus.

A doctor could help treat the underlying cause or refer a person to a healthcare professional to treat the complications contributing to memory loss.

For example, a mental health professional may help treat anxiety and depression with behavioral therapy, medication, or both. This could involve psychotherapy such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), antidepressants, and anti-anxiety medications.

Other strategies for managing tinnitus include:

  • Masking: This involves using sound therapy to direct a person’s attention away from their tinnitus, which may relieve symptoms of the condition.
  • Hearing aids and cochlear implants: Hearing devices may help reduce hearing loss and tinnitus symptoms.
  • Relaxation techniques: Practicing relaxation techniques such as breathing exercises and mindfulness may help reduce stress from tinnitus.
  • Sleep hygiene: Developing good sleep habits to improve sleep quality could help reduce tinnitus symptoms and reduce memory loss.

Researchers have found that for some people, tinnitus may improve cognitive functions such as memory.

Although more research is necessary to understand how the condition may improve cognitive functions in some individuals, researchers suggest it may be due to a phenomenon called stochastic resonance.

In stochastic resonance, the addition of a random sound, such as white noise, boosts the clarity of another sound or signal.

In tinnitus, the persistent perception of a sound in the ears may boost the clarity of other “signals,” which the researchers suggest may improve some cognitive functions.

Below are the answers to some frequently asked questions about tinnitus.

What are the long-term effects of severe tinnitus?

Tinnitus may lead to complications such as depression, anxiety, and sleep disturbances, which may lead to further health complications.

Can a person live a long life with tinnitus?

A person can live a long, healthy life with tinnitus, and the condition is typically not severe enough to interfere with daily life.

What should a person avoid doing if they have tinnitus?

Someone with tinnitus needs to avoid exposure to loud noises. If possible, a person can use methods to try to avoid stress and avoid focusing on the tinnitus sound.

Tinnitus may lead to memory loss and could affect their general ability to think, learn, and remember.

Researchers associate memory loss with various complications of tinnitus. These include a lack of focus and concentration, mental health problems, and sleep disturbances, which may all contribute to memory impairment.

Researchers also associate tinnitus with dementia, although more research is necessary to determine whether there are causal links between the two.

Research also suggests that tinnitus may improve a person’s memory in some cases. However, more research is necessary to determine why this may occur.

A person needs to contact a doctor if they experience tinnitus or memory loss from tinnitus.