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The aging brain and its influence on sound processing

July 29, 2015
by Sandra Hoban, Managing Editor
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Research from the University of Maryland’s (UM) Department of Hearing and Speech Sciences (HSS) identified differences in how brains (both young and old) processed words. The study group of 30 individuals was comprised of a mix of young and old adults with normal hearing and no neurologic disorders.

Each participant was presented with various speech syllables. Researchers altered the frequency of sounds and measured brain activity via small electrodes. This data helped researchers identify how subjects of various ages processed words. Older subjects had delayed responses as compared to those of the younger participants, especially with the beginning and end of words.

“Problems in processing complex sounds such as ‘da’ and ‘a’ could help explain their difficulties in understanding speech, particularly in noisy environments,” said the study’s lead author Alessandro Presacco, a doctoral student in the Neuroscience and Cognitive Science at UM.

Researchers determined that there are many potential reasons why some adults have language-processing challenges—from the brain’s “ability to accurately process speech to its inability to sustain neural firing for the duration of the speech.”

“Although this phenomenon is commonly attributed to hearing loss, it’s often the case that adults with clinically ‘normal’ hearing still experience difficulty,” says the study’s principal investigator Samira Anderson, assistant professor of HSS.

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