The mechanisms underlying age-related changes in speech perception are still unclear, most likely multifactorial and often can be difficult to parse out from the effects of hearing loss. Age-related changes in temporal resolution (i.e., the ability to track rapid changes in sounds) have long been associated with speech perception declines exhibited by many older individuals. The goals of this study were as follows: (1) to assess age-related changes in temporal resolution in cochlear implant (CI) users, and (2) to examine the impact of changes in temporal resolution and cognition on the perception of speech in noise. In this population, it is possible to bypass the cochlea and stimulate the auditory nerve directly in a noninvasive way. Additionally, CI technology allows for manipulation of the temporal properties of a signal without changing its spectrum.
Twenty postlingually deafened Nucleus CI users took part in this study. They were divided into groups of younger (18 to 40 years) and older (68 to 82 years) participants. A cross-sectional study design was used. The speech processor was bypassed and a mid-array electrode was used for stimulation. We compared peripheral and central physiologic measures of temporal resolution with perceptual measures obtained using similar stimuli. Peripherally, temporal resolution was assessed with measures of the rate of recovery of the electrically evoked compound action potential (ECAP), evoked using a single pulse and a pulse train as maskers. The acoustic change complex (ACC) to gaps in pulse trains was used to assess temporal resolution more centrally. Psychophysical gap detection thresholds were also obtained. Cognitive assessment included two tests of processing speed (Symbol Search and Coding) and one test of working memory (Digit Span Test). Speech perception was tested in the presence of background noise (QuickSIN test). A correlational design was used to explore the relationship between temporal resolution, cognition, and speech perception.
The only metric that showed significant age effects in temporal processing was the ECAP recovery function recorded using pulse train maskers. Younger participants were found to have faster rates of neural recovery following presentation of pulse trains than older participants. Age was not found to have a significant effect on speech perception. When results from both groups were combined, digit span was the only measure significantly correlated with speech perception performance.
In this sample of CI users, few effects of advancing age on temporal resolution were evident. While this finding would be consistent with a general lack of aging effects on temporal resolution, it is also possible that aging effects are influenced by processing peripheral to the auditory nerve, which is bypassed by the CI. However, it is known that cross-fiber neural synchrony is improved with electrical (as opposed to acoustic) stimulation. This change in neural synchrony may, in turn, make temporal cues more robust/perceptible to all CI users. Future studies involving larger sample sizes should be conducted to confirm these findings. Results of this study also add to the growing body of literature that suggests that working memory is important for the perception of degraded speech.
1Speech Pathology and Audiology, Kent State University, Kent, Ohio, USA
2Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders/Department of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery, University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa, USA.
Received June 21, 2017; accepted February 21, 2019.
This study was funded by a Student Investigator Research Grant from the American Academy of Audiology (B. S. M.) and by an NIH P50 DC000242 grant.
The authors have no conflicts of interest to disclose.
Address for correspondence: Bruna S. S. Mussoi, AuD, PhD, Kent State University, Speech Pathology and Audiology, A140 Center for Performing Arts, 1325 Theatre Drive, Kent, OH 44242, USA. E-mail: email@example.com
Online date: April 25, 2019