Age-Related Speech Processing Decline May Account for Comprehension Problems A decrease in adults’ ability to follow and understand speech in noisy—and quiet—environments may be partly caused by declining function in the cortex and midbrain, new research finds. In a University of Maryland study of people with clinically normal hearing, older participants had more difficulty understanding speech than a group ... Research in Brief
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Research in Brief  |   January 01, 2017
Age-Related Speech Processing Decline May Account for Comprehension Problems
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Hearing & Speech Perception / Acoustics / Special Populations / Older Adults & Aging / Professional Issues & Training / Research in Brief
Research in Brief   |   January 01, 2017
Age-Related Speech Processing Decline May Account for Comprehension Problems
The ASHA Leader, January 2017, Vol. 22, 15. doi:10.1044/leader.RIB2.22012017.15
The ASHA Leader, January 2017, Vol. 22, 15. doi:10.1044/leader.RIB2.22012017.15
A decrease in adults’ ability to follow and understand speech in noisy—and quiet—environments may be partly caused by declining function in the cortex and midbrain, new research finds.
In a University of Maryland study of people with clinically normal hearing, older participants had more difficulty understanding speech than a group of younger participants in all environments and signal-to-noise ratios tested. The results indicate that inability to hear certain volumes may not be the only factor that contributes to difficulties with speech comprehension among older adults.
The study is another insight into the “cocktail party effect”—which allows the brain to focus on a particular sound source, usually a conversation, while paying less attention to surrounding background noise—and how it becomes more difficult for older people to tune out irrelevant background noise. “Often we will hear an older person say, ‘I can hear you, I just can’t understand you,’” says study co-author Samira Anderson, assistant professor in Maryland’s Department of Hearing and Speech Sciences. “This research gives us new insight into why that is the case.”
Thirty-two participants were split into two age groups: older (with an average age of 65) and younger (with an average age of 22). The researchers tested their comprehension skills in quiet and noisy environments with four different signal-to-noise ratios. At the same time, they measured mid-brain activity using electroencephalography and cortical activity with magnetoencephalography.
The older adults had a significantly harder time deciphering speech in all situations, and the researchers observed that signals in both areas of the brain were reduced. The younger participants were also able to more quickly process speech.
University of California, Irvine, post-doctoral fellow Alessandro Presacco, a graduate research assistant in the neuroscience and cognitive sciences program at Maryland at the time of the study, is the first-listed author on the study, published in the Journal of Neurophysiology.
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January 2017
Volume 22, Issue 1