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Effects of sensorineural hearing loss on cortical synchronization to competing speech during selective attention

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When selectively attending to a speech stream in multi-talker scenarios, low-frequency cortical activity is known to synchronize selectively to fluctuations in the attended speech signal. Older listeners with age-related sensorineural hearing loss (presbycusis) often struggle to understand speech in such situations, even when wearing a hearing aid. Yet, it is unclear whether a peripheral hearing loss degrades the attentional modulation of cortical speech tracking. Here, we used psychoacoustics and electroencephalography (EEG) in male and female human listeners to examine potential effects of hearing loss on EEG correlates of speech envelope synchronization in cortex. Behaviorally, older hearing-impaired (HI) listeners showed degraded speech-in-noise recognition and reduced temporal acuity compared with age-matched normal-hearing (NH) controls. During EEG recordings, we used a selective attention task with two spatially separated simultaneous speech streams where NH and HI listeners both showed high speech recognition performance. Low-frequency (<10 Hz) envelope-entrained EEG responses were enhanced in the HI listeners, both for the attended speech, but also for tone sequences modulated at slow rates (4 Hz) during passive listening. Compared with the attended speech, responses to the ignored stream were found to be reduced in both HI and NH listeners, allowing for the attended target to be classified from single-trial EEG data with similar high accuracy in the two groups. However, despite robust attention-modulated speech entrainment, the HI listeners rated the competing speech task to be more difficult. These results suggest that speech-in-noise problems experienced by older HI listeners are not necessarily associated with degraded attentional selection.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT People with age-related sensorineural hearing loss often struggle to follow speech in the presence of competing talkers. It is currently unclear whether hearing impairment may impair the ability to use selective attention to suppress distracting speech in situations when the distractor is well segregated from the target. Here, we report amplified envelope-entrained cortical EEG responses to attended speech and to simple tones modulated at speech rates (4 Hz) in listeners with age-related hearing loss. Critically, despite increased self-reported listening difficulties, cortical synchronization to speech mixtures was robustly modulated by selective attention in listeners with hearing loss. This allowed the attended talker to be classified from single-trial EEG responses with high accuracy in both older hearing-impaired listeners and age-matched normal-hearing controls.

Original languageEnglish
JournalThe Journal of Neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience
Volume40
Issue number12
Pages (from-to)2562-2572
Number of pages11
ISSN2314-4262
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 18 Mar 2020

    Research areas

  • Acoustic Stimulation, Aged, Attention/physiology, Cortical Synchronization, Electroencephalography, Evoked Potentials, Auditory, Female, Hearing Loss, Sensorineural/physiopathology, Humans, Male, Middle Aged, Psychoacoustics, Psychomotor Performance, Recognition, Psychology, Speech Perception

ID: 59422507