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Ear Hear. 2017 Nov/Dec;38(6):e335-e342. doi: 10.1097/AUD.0000000000000447.

Age-Related Differences in the Processing of Temporal Envelope and Spectral Cues in a Speech Segment.

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Department of Hearing and Speech Sciences, University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland, USA.



As people age, they experience reduced temporal processing abilities. This results in poorer ability to understand speech, particularly for degraded input signals. Cochlear implants (CIs) convey speech information via the temporal envelopes of a spectrally degraded input signal. Because there is an increasing number of older CI users, there is a need to understand how temporal processing changes with age. Therefore, the goal of this study was to quantify age-related reduction in temporal processing abilities when attempting to discriminate words based on temporal envelope information from spectrally degraded signals.


Younger normal-hearing (YNH) and older normal-hearing (ONH) participants were presented a continuum of speech tokens that varied in silence duration between phonemes (0 to 60 ms in 10-ms steps), and were asked to identify whether the stimulus was perceived more as the word "dish" or "ditch." Stimuli were vocoded using tonal carriers. The number of channels (1, 2, 4, 8, 16, and unprocessed) and temporal envelope low-pass filter cutoff frequency (50 and 400 Hz) were systematically varied.


For the unprocessed conditions, the YNH participants perceived the word ditch for smaller silence durations than the ONH participants, indicating that aging affects temporal processing abilities. There was no difference in performance between the unprocessed and 16-channel, 400-Hz vocoded stimuli. Decreasing the number of spectral channels caused decreased ability to distinguish dish and ditch. Decreasing the envelope cutoff frequency also caused decreased ability to distinguish dish and ditch. The overall pattern of results revealed that reductions in spectral and temporal information had a relatively larger effect on the ONH participants compared with the YNH participants.


Aging reduces the ability to utilize brief temporal cues in speech segments. Reducing spectral information-as occurs in a channel vocoder and in CI speech processing strategies-forces participants to use temporal envelope information; however, older participants are less capable of utilizing this information. These results suggest that providing as much spectral and temporal speech information as possible would benefit older CI users relatively more than younger CI users. In addition, the present findings help set expectations of clinical outcomes for speech understanding performance by adult CI users as a function of age.

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