Differences in speech processing among elderly hearing-impaired listeners with or without hearing aid experience: Eye-tracking and fMRI measurements
In contrast to the effects of hearing loss, the effects of hearing aid (HA) experience on speech-in-noise (SIN) processing are underexplored. Using an eye-tracking paradigm that allows determining how fast a participant can grasp the meaning of a sentence presented in noise together with two pictures that correctly or incorrectly depict the sentence meaning (the ‘processing time’), Habicht et al. (2016, 2017) found that inexperienced HA (iHA) users were slower than experienced HA (eHA) users, despite no differences in speech recognition. To examine the influence of HA use on SIN processing further, the eye-tracking paradigm was adapted for functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) measurements. Groups of eHA (N = 13) and iHA (N = 14) users matched in terms of age, hearing loss and working memory capacity participated. As before, despite no difference in speech recognition, the iHA group had longer processing times than the eHA group. Furthermore, the iHA group showed more brain activation for SIN relative to noise-only stimuli in left precentral gyrus, cerebellum anterior lobe, superior temporal gyrus and right medial frontal gyrus compared to the eHA group. Together, these results support the idea that HA experience positively influences the ability to process SIN quickly and that it reduces the recruitment of brain regions outside the core speech-comprehension network.
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