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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

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


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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