Cochlear implant (CI) signal processing degrades the spectral components of speech. This requires CI users to rely primarily on temporal cues, specifically, amplitude modulations within the temporal envelope, to recognize speech. Auditory temporal processing ability for envelope modulations worsens with advancing age, which may put older CI users at a disadvantage compared with younger users. To evaluate how potential age-related limitations for processing temporal envelope modulations impact spectrally degraded sentence recognition, noise-vocoded sentences were presented to younger and older normal-hearing listeners in quiet. Envelope modulation rates were varied from 10 to 500 Hz by adjusting the low-pass filter cutoff frequency (LPF). The goal of this study was to evaluate if age impacts recognition of noise-vocoded speech and if this age-related limitation existed for a specific range of envelope modulation rates.
Noise-vocoded sentence recognition in quiet was measured as a function of number of spectral channels (4, 6, 8, and 12 channels) and LPF (10, 20, 50, 75, 150, 375, and 500 Hz) in 15 younger normal-hearing listeners and 15 older near-normal-hearing listeners. Hearing thresholds and working memory were assessed to determine the extent to which these factors were related to recognition of noise-vocoded sentences.
Younger listeners achieved significantly higher sentence recognition scores than older listeners overall. Performance improved in both groups as the number of spectral channels and LPF increased. As the number of spectral channels increased, the differences in sentence recognition scores between groups decreased. A spectral-temporal trade-off was observed in both groups in which performance in the 8- and 12-channel conditions plateaued with lower-frequency amplitude modulations compared with the 4- and 6-channel conditions. There was no interaction between age group and LPF, suggesting that both groups obtained similar improvements in performance with increasing LPF. The lack of an interaction between age and LPF may be due to the nature of the task of recognizing sentences in quiet. Audiometric thresholds were the only significant predictor of vocoded sentence recognition. Although performance on the working memory task declined with advancing age, working memory scores did not predict sentence recognition.
Younger listeners outperformed older listeners for recognizing noise-vocoded sentences in quiet. The negative impact of age was reduced when ample spectral information was available. Age-related limitations for recognizing vocoded sentences were not affected by the temporal envelope modulation rate of the signal, but instead, appear to be related to a generalized task limitation or to reduced audibility of the signal.