Aging Brains Less Able To Process Speech in Noisy Environments

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Samira Anderson, AuD., Ph.D. Assistant Professor Department of Hearing and Speech Sciences Faculty, Program in Neuroscience and Cognitive Sciences Faculty, Maryland Language Science Center Director, The Hearing Brain Lab www.hearingbrainlab.umd.edu University of Maryland – College Park

Dr. Samira Anderson

Samira Anderson, AuD., Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Department of Hearing and Speech Sciences
Faculty, Program in Neuroscience and Cognitive Sciences
Faculty, Maryland Language Science Center
Director, The Hearing Brain Lab
www.hearingbrainlab.umd.edu
University of Maryland – College Park

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: It is known that older adults ability to understand speech in background noise is enhanced by factors other than hearing. Older adults draw on cognitive resources to improve their understanding of what is said more so than do younger adults. Specifically, they can use the context of the conversation to fill in the gaps of what they might have missed due to background noise. They also benefit when the distracting noise or talker is speaking in a language that is unintelligible to them. So  someone who speaks English will understand the conversation better when the distracting talker is speaking a language other than English. If the background talker is speaking a different language, then that background talker is easier to ignore.

In this study we were motivated to find out what is happening in the brain when older and younger adults are listening to a story spoken in English and ignoring a background talker who is speaking either in English or in Dutch. We found that overall the neural responses of older adults were degraded by noise to a greater extent than in younger adults, despite that fact that they had normal hearing. However, the neural response in older adults improved when the background talker was speaking Dutch compared to English, and this same improvement was not seen in younger adults. The older adults also reported that it was easier for them to focus on the English talker when the background talker was speaking Dutch, but the young adults said it didn’t make any difference.

MedicalResearch.com: What should readers take away from your report?

Response: Aging affects the brain’s ability to process speech in noisy environments. However, the brain’s processing can improve in environments that take advantage of cognitive resources such as attention or working memory.

MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Response: It would important to see if we can improve older adults’ ability to understand speech in noise using a combination of auditory and cognitive training tasks.

MedicalResearch.com: Is there anything else you would like to add?

Response: Although the ears play an important role in our ability to understand speech, the brain may play an even more important role in our ability to understand conversations in noisy environments, especially as we age.

MedicalResearch.com: Thank you for your contribution to the MedicalResearch.com community.

Citation:
J Neurophysiol. 2016 Sep 7:jn.00373.2016. doi: 10.1152/jn.00373.2016.
[Epub ahead of print]
Effect of informational content of noise on speech representation in the aging midbrain and cortex.
Presacco A1, Simon JZ2, Anderson S2.
Note: Content is Not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider regarding your specific medical condition and questions.

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