The purpose of the current study was to examine how age-related hearing impairment affects lipreading and auditory-visual integration. The working hypothesis for the investigation was that presbycusic hearing loss would increase reliance on visual speech information, resulting in better lipreading and auditory-visual integration in older persons who have hearing impairment, compared with older persons who have normal hearing.
This study compared the performance of 53 adults with normal hearing (above age 65) and 24 adults with mild-to-moderate hearing impairment (above age 65) on auditory-only (A), visual-only (V), and auditory-visual (AV) speech perception, using consonants, words, and sentences as stimuli. All testing was conducted in the presence of multi-talker background babble, set individually for each participant and each type of stimulus, to obtain approximately equivalent A performance across the groups. In addition, we compared the two groups of participants on measures of auditory enhancement, visual enhancement, and auditory-visual integration that were derived from the A, V and AV performance scores.
In general, the two groups of participants performed similarly on measures of V and AV speech perception. The one exception to this finding was that the participants with hearing impairment performed significantly better than the participants with normal hearing on V identification of words. Measures of visual enhancement, auditory enhancement, and auditory-visual integration did not differ as a function of hearing status.
Overall, the results of the current study suggest that despite increased reliance on visual speech information, older adults who have hearing impairment do not exhibit better V speech perception or auditory-visual integration than age-matched individuals who have normal hearing. These findings indicate that inclusion of V and AV speech perception measures can provide important information for designing maximally effective audiological rehabilitation strategies.