Short-term auditory learning in older and younger adults
Why speech perception in noise declines with aging remains under substantial debate. One hypothesis is that older adults adapt to perceptually-difficult listening conditions to a lesser extent than younger adults, and this, in turn, contributes to their difficulties. To test this hypothesis, we are conducting an ongoing study on the association between speech perception and perceptual learning. Here we compared the rapid learning of speech in noise between normal-hearing older and younger adults. All participants completed 40 minutes of training during which they listened to auditory passages embedded in adaptively-changing babble noise and answered content questions. To assess learning and transfer, participants were tested on the trained task and on two untrained tasks (pseudoword discrimination and sentence verification) before and after training. Both groups showed improvements over the course of the training session. Pre- to post-test improvements were observed on the trained task but not on either of the untrained ones. Consistent with the idea that poor rapid learning might limit perception in older adults, strong correlations were found between the amount of improvement during training and baseline performance of the untrained tasks.
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