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Nat Commun. 2017 Jun 27;8:15801. doi: 10.1038/ncomms15801.

Aging affects the balance of neural entrainment and top-down neural modulation in the listening brain.

Author information

1
Max Planck Research Group 'Auditory Cognition', Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Stephanstrasse 1a, Leipzig 04103, Germany.
2
Brain and Mind Institute, Department of Psychology, The University of Western Ontario, 1151 Richmond St., London, Ontario, Canada N6A 3K7.
3
Department of Psychology, University of Lübeck, MFC 8, Maria-Goeppert-Strasse 9a, Lübeck 23562, Germany.

Abstract

Healthy aging is accompanied by listening difficulties, including decreased speech comprehension, that stem from an ill-understood combination of sensory and cognitive changes. Here, we use electroencephalography to demonstrate that auditory neural oscillations of older adults entrain less firmly and less flexibly to speech-paced (∼3 Hz) rhythms than younger adults' during attentive listening. These neural entrainment effects are distinct in magnitude and origin from the neural response to sound per se. Non-entrained parieto-occipital alpha (8-12 Hz) oscillations are enhanced in young adults, but suppressed in older participants, during attentive listening. Entrained neural phase and task-induced alpha amplitude exert opposite, complementary effects on listening performance: higher alpha amplitude is associated with reduced entrainment-driven behavioural performance modulation. Thus, alpha amplitude as a task-driven, neuro-modulatory signal can counteract the behavioural corollaries of neural entrainment. Balancing these two neural strategies may present new paths for intervention in age-related listening difficulties.

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