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Trends Amplif. 2006 Mar;10(1):29-59.

Effects of age on auditory and cognitive processing: implications for hearing aid fitting and audiologic rehabilitation.

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Department of Psychology, University of Toronto, 3359 Mississauga Road, Mississauga, Ontario, Canada L5L 1C6.


Recent advances in research and clinical practice concerning aging and auditory communication have been driven by questions about age-related differences in peripheral hearing, central auditory processing, and cognitive processing. A "site-of-lesion'' view based on anatomic levels inspired research to test competing hypotheses about the contributions of changes at these three levels of the nervous system. A "processing'' view based on psychologic functions inspired research to test alternative hypotheses about how lower-level sensory processes and higher-level cognitive processes interact. In the present paper, we suggest that these two views can begin to be unified following the example set by the cognitive neuroscience of aging. The early pioneers of audiology anticipated such a unified view, but today, advances in science and technology make it both possible and necessary. Specifically, we argue that a synthesis of new knowledge concerning the functional neuroscience of auditory cognition is necessary to inform the design and fitting of digital signal processing in "intelligent'' hearing devices, as well as to inform best practices for resituating hearing aid fitting in a broader context of audiologic rehabilitation. Long-standing approaches to rehabilitative audiology should be revitalized to emphasize the important role that training and therapy play in promoting compensatory brain reorganization as older adults acclimatize to new technologies. The purpose of the present paper is to provide an integrated framework for understanding how auditory and cognitive processing interact when older adults listen, comprehend, and communicate in realistic situations, to review relevant models and findings, and to suggest how new knowledge about age-related changes in audition and cognition may influence future developments in hearing aid fitting and audiologic rehabilitation.

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