What is it about?

Speech may sound distorted to the older listener because of hearing loss and changes in the aging brain that degrade the signal. We presented clean and disorted speech signals to younger and older listeners, and we recorded their neural responses to these signals in the brainstem and cortex. We also evaluated their ablity to understand these words. We found that distortion significantly reduced the fidelity of responses in the brainstem in both younger and older listeners. In the cortex, however, the younger listeners's responses were unaffected by distortion, whereas the older listeners' responses showed evidence of over-compensation, with larger response amplitudes for the distorted than for the clean signal. Speech understanding was unaffected by the distortion, except for in older individuals with hearing loss.

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Why is it important?

Our findings show that the older listener's brain (cortical) responses are affected to a greater extent by signal degradation than that of younger listeners. For this reason, older listeners may have more difficulty understanding speech when it is degraded by noise, by reverberation, or by disorted transmission of signals via electronic technology.


As an older listener, I find that I often experience difficulty understanding what is said during teleconference calls, especially when the speaker's microphone is not transmitting well. And, these calls quite be quite fatiguing because of the greater listening effort that must be exerted to compensate for the disortion. These results help me to understand why I experience this problems, despite the fact that my hearing is considered "clinically normal."

Samira Anderson
University System of Maryland

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Age-Related Compensation Mechanism Revealed in the Cortical Representation of Degraded Speech, Journal of the Association for Research in Otolaryngology, July 2020, Springer Science + Business Media, DOI: 10.1007/s10162-020-00753-4.
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