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J Neurophysiol. 2011 May;105(5):2471-86. doi: 10.1152/jn.00951.2010. Epub 2011 Mar 2.

Influence of aging on human sound localization.

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Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy, University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, 601 Elmwood Ave., Rochester, NY 14642-8603, USA.


Errors in sound localization, associated with age-related changes in peripheral and central auditory function, can pose threats to self and others in a commonly encountered environment such as a busy traffic intersection. This study aimed to quantify the accuracy and precision (repeatability) of free-field human sound localization as a function of advancing age. Head-fixed young, middle-aged, and elderly listeners localized band-passed targets using visually guided manual laser pointing in a darkened room. Targets were presented in the frontal field by a robotically controlled loudspeaker assembly hidden behind a screen. Broadband targets (0.1-20 kHz) activated all auditory spatial channels, whereas low-pass and high-pass targets selectively isolated interaural time and intensity difference cues (ITDs and IIDs) for azimuth and high-frequency spectral cues for elevation. In addition, to assess the upper frequency limit of ITD utilization across age groups more thoroughly, narrowband targets were presented at 250-Hz intervals from 250 Hz up to ∼ 2 kHz. Young subjects generally showed horizontal overestimation (overshoot) and vertical underestimation (undershoot) of auditory target location, and this effect varied with frequency band. Accuracy and/or precision worsened in older individuals for broadband, high-pass, and low-pass targets, reflective of peripheral but also central auditory aging. In addition, compared with young adults, middle-aged, and elderly listeners showed pronounced horizontal localization deficiencies (imprecision) for narrowband targets within 1,250-1,575 Hz, congruent with age-related central decline in auditory temporal processing. Findings underscore the distinct neural processing of the auditory spatial cues in sound localization and their selective deterioration with advancing age.

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