Age-group differences in speech identification despite matched audiometrically normal hearing
Christian Füllgrabe (1), Brian C. J. Moore (2), Michael A. Stone (3)
(1) MRC Institute of Hearing Research, Nottingham, UK
(2) Department of Psychology, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK
(3) School of Psychological Sciences, University of Manchester, Manchester, UK
Hearing loss with increasing age adversely affects the ability to understand speech, an effect that results partly from reduced audibility. The aims of this study were to establish whether aging reduces speech intelligibility for listeners with normal audiograms, and, if so, to assess the relative contributions of perceptual and cognitive processes. Twenty-one older normal-hearing (ONH; 60-79 years) participants with bilateral audiometric thresholds ≤ 20 dB HL from 0.125 to 6 kHz were matched to nine young (YNH; 18-27 years) participants in terms of mean audiograms, years of education, and performance IQ. Measures included: (1) identification of consonants in quiet and in noise that was unmodulated or modulated at 5 or 80 Hz; (2) identification of sentences in quiet and in co-located or spatially separated two-talker babble; (3) detection of modulation of the temporal envelope (TE) at frequencies 5-180 Hz; (4) monaural and binaural sensitivity to temporal fine structure (TFS); (5) various cognitive tests. Speech identification was worse for ONH than YNH participants in all types of background. This deficit was not reflected in self-ratings of hearing ability. Modulation masking release (improvement in speech identification obtained by amplitude modulating a noise background) and spatial masking release (benefit obtained from spatially separating masker and target speech) were not affected by age. Sensitivity to TE and TFS was lower for ONH than YNH participants, and was correlated positively with speech-in-noise (SiN) identification. Many cognitive abilities were lower for ONH than YNH participants, and generally were correlated positively with SiN identification scores. The best predictors of the intelligibility of SiN were composite measures of cognition and TFS sensitivity. These results suggest that declines in speech perception in older persons are partly caused by cognitive and perceptual changes separate from age-related changes in audiometric sensitivity.