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Auditory Working Memory Explains Variance in Speech Recognition in Older Listeners Under Adverse Listening Conditions

Authors Kim S, Choi I, Schwalje AT, Kim K, Lee JH

Received 12 December 2019

Accepted for publication 13 February 2020

Published 17 March 2020 Volume 2020:15 Pages 395—406

DOI https://doi.org/10.2147/CIA.S241976

Checked for plagiarism Yes

Review by Single anonymous peer review

Peer reviewer comments 3

Editor who approved publication: Dr Richard Walker


Subong Kim,1 Inyong Choi,1,2 Adam T Schwalje,2 KyooSang Kim,3 Jae Hee Lee4

1Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA 52242, USA; 2Department of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery, University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, Iowa City, IA 52242, USA; 3Department of Occupational Environmental Medicine, Seoul Medical Centerr, Seoul 02053, South Korea; 4Department of Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology, HUGS Center for Hearing and Speech Research, Hallym University of Graduate Studies, Seoul 06197, South Korea

Correspondence: Jae Hee Lee
Department of Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology, HUGS Center for Hearing and Speech Research, Hallym University of Graduate Studies, Seoul 06197, South Korea
Tel +82-2-3453-9333
Fax +82-2-3453-6618
Email leejaehee@hallym.ac.kr

Introduction: Older listeners have difficulty understanding speech in unfavorable listening conditions. To compensate for acoustic degradation, cognitive processing skills, such as working memory, need to be engaged. Despite prior findings on the association between working memory and speech recognition in various listening conditions, it is not yet clear whether the modality of stimuli presentation for working memory tasks should be auditory or visual. Given the modality-specific characteristics of working memory, we hypothesized that auditory working memory capacity could predict speech recognition performance in adverse listening conditions for older listeners and that the contribution of auditory working memory to speech recognition would depend on the task and listening condition.
Methods: Seventy-six older listeners and twenty younger listeners completed four kinds of auditory working memory tasks, including digit and speech span tasks, and sentence recognition tasks in four different listening conditions having multi-talker noise and time-compression. For older listeners, cognitive function was screened using the Mini-Mental Status Examination, and audibility was assured.
Results: Auditory working memory, as measured by listening span, significantly predicted speech recognition performance in adverse listening conditions for older listeners. A linear regression model showed speech recognition performance for older listeners could be explained by auditory working memory whilst controlling for the impact of age and hearing sensitivity.
Discussion: Measuring working memory in the auditory modality facilitated explaining the variance in speech recognition in adverse listening conditions for older listeners. The linguistic features and the complexity of the auditory stimuli may affect the association between working memory and speech recognition performance.
Conclusion: We demonstrated the contribution of auditory working memory to speech recognition in unfavorable listening conditions in older populations. Taking the modality-specific characteristics of working memory into account may be a key to better understand the difficulty in speech recognition in daily listening conditions for older listeners.

Keywords: auditory working memory, age, hearing loss, speech recognition

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