Neural and Cognitive Effects of Hearing Loss on Speech Processing
Abstract: Understanding speech in the presence of noise can be difficult, especially when suffering from a hearing loss. This thesis examined behavioural and electrophysiological measures of speech processing with the aim of establishing how they were influenced by hearing loss (internal degradation) and listening condition (external degradation). The hypothesis that more internal and external degradation of a speech signal would result in higher working memory (WM) involvement was investigated in four studies. The behavioural measure of speech recognition consistently decreased with worse hearing, whereas lower WM capacity only resulted in poorer speech recognition when sound were spatially co-located. Electrophysiological data (EEG) recorded during speech processing, revealed that worse hearing was associated with an increase in inhibitory alpha activity (~10 Hz). This indicates that listeners with worse hearing experienced a higher degree of WM involvement during the listening task. When increasing the level of background noise, listeners with poorer hearing exhibited a breakdown in alpha activity, suggesting that these listeners reached a ceiling at which no more WM resources could be released through neural inhibition. Worse hearing was also associated with a reduced ability to selectively attend to one of two simultaneous talkers, brought on by a reduced neural inhibition of the to-be-ignored speech. Increasing the level of background noise reduced the ability to neurally track the to-be-attended speech. That internal and external degradation affected the tracking of ignored and attended speech, respectively, indicates that the two speech streams were neurally processed as independent objects. This thesis demonstrates for the first time that hearing loss causes changes in the induced neural activity during speech processing. In the last paper of the thesis, it is tentatively suggested that neural activity can be utilized from electrodes positioned in the ear canal (EarEEG) for adapting hearing-aid processing to suite the individual listeners and situation.
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