How Do Age and Hearing Loss Impact Spectral Envelope Perception?

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Purpose: The goal was to evaluate the potential effects of increasing hearing loss and advancing age on spectral envelope perception.

Method: Spectral modulation detection was measured as a function of spectral modulation frequency from 0.5 to 8.0 cycles/octave. The spectral modulation task involved discrimination of a noise carrier (3 octaves wide from 400 to 3200 Hz) with a flat spectral envelope from a noise having a sinusoidal spectral envelope across a logarithmic audio frequency scale. Spectral modulation transfer functions (SMTFs; modulation threshold vs. modulation frequency) were computed and compared 4 listener groups: young normal hearing, older normal hearing, older with mild hearing loss, and older with moderate hearing loss. Estimates of the internal spectral contrast were obtained by computing excitation patterns.

Results: SMTFs for young listeners with normal hearing were bandpass with a minimum modulation detection threshold at 2 cycles/octave, and older listeners with normal hearing were remarkably similar to those of the young listeners. SMTFs for older listeners with mild and moderate hearing loss had a low-pass rather than a bandpass shape. Excitation patterns revealed that limited spectral resolution dictated modulation detection thresholds at high but not low spectral modulation frequencies. Even when factoring out (presumed) differences in frequency resolution among groups, the spectral envelope perception was worse for the group with moderate hearing loss than the other 3 groups. Conclusions: The spectral envelope perception as measured by spectral modulation detection thresholds is compromised by hearing loss at higher spectral modulation frequencies, consistent with predictions of reduced spectral resolution known to accompany sensorineural hearing loss. Spectral envelope perception is not negatively impacted by advancing age at any spectral modulation frequency between 0.5 and 8.0 cycles/octave.

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Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, v. 61, issue 9, p. 2376-2385