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Original Research ARTICLE Provisionally accepted The full-text will be published soon. Notify me

Front. Neurosci. | doi: 10.3389/fnins.2019.00749

Effects of Age, Cognition, and Neural Encoding on the Perception of Temporal Speech Cues

Lindsey Roque1, Hanin Karawani2,  Sandra Gordon-Salant1 and  Samira Anderson1*
  • 1University of Maryland, College Park, United States
  • 2University of Haifa, Israel

Older adults commonly report difficulty understanding speech, particularly in adverse listening environments. These communication difficulties may exist in the absence of peripheral hearing loss. Older adults, both with normal hearing and with hearing loss, demonstrate temporal processing deficits that affect speech perception. The purpose of the present study is to investigate aging, cognition, and neural processing factors that may lead to deficits on perceptual tasks that rely on phoneme identification based on a temporal cue – vowel duration. A better understanding of the neural and cognitive impairments underlying temporal processing deficits could lead to more focused aural rehabilitation for improved speech understanding for older adults with normal hearing.
This investigation was conducted in younger (YNH) and older normal-hearing (ONH) participants who completed three measures of cognitive functioning known to decline with age: working memory, processing speed, and inhibitory control. To evaluate perceptual and neural processing of auditory temporal contrasts, identification functions for the contrasting word-pair WHEAT and WEED were obtained on a nine-step continuum of vowel duration, and frequency-following responses (FFRs) and cortical auditory-evoked potentials (CAEPs) were recorded to the two endpoints of the continuum. Multiple linear regression analyses were conducted to determine the cognitive, peripheral, and/or central mechanisms that may contribute to perceptual performance.
YNH participants demonstrated higher cognitive functioning on all three measures compared to ONH participants. The slope of the identification function was steeper in YNH than in ONH participants, suggesting a clearer distinction between the contrasting words in the YNH participants. FFRs revealed better response waveform morphology and more robust phase-locking in YNH compared to ONH participants. ONH participants also exhibited earlier latencies for CAEP components compared to the YNH participants. Linear regression analyses revealed that cortical processing significantly contributed to the variance in perceptual performance in the WHEAT/WEED identification functions. These results suggest that reduced neural precision contributes to age-related speech perception difficulties that arise from temporal processing deficits.

Keywords: Aging, temporal processing, Speech Perception, Cognition, frequency-following response, cortical auditory-evoked potentials

Received: 17 Dec 2018; Accepted: 05 Jul 2019.

Edited by:

Dona M. Jayakody, Ear Science Institute Australia, Australia

Reviewed by:

Julia Campbell, University of Texas at Austin, United States
Bram Van Dun, National Acoustic Laboratories, Australia  

Copyright: © 2019 Roque, Karawani, Gordon-Salant and Anderson. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Dr. Samira Anderson, University of Maryland, College Park, College Park, 20742, Maryland, United States, sander22@umd.edu