Hearing and cognition in speech comprehension. Methods and applications
Abstract: Central auditory processing is complex and can not be evaluated by a single method. This thesis focuses on assessment of some aspects of central auditory functions by the use of dichotic speech tests and cognitive tests that tax functions important for speech processing.Paper A deals with the cognitive effects in dichotic speech testing in elderly hearing-impaired subjects. It was found that different listening tasks in the dichotic tests put different demands on cognitive ability, shown by a varying degree of correlation between cognitive functions and dichotic test parameters. Age-related cognitive decline was strongly connected with problems to perceive stimuli presented to the left ear.Paper B presents a new cognitive test battery sensitive for functions important for speech processing and understanding, performed in text, auditory and audiovisual modalities. The test battery was evaluated in four groups, differing in age and hearing status, and has proven to be useful in assessing the relative contribution of different input-modalities and the effect of age, hearingimpairment and visual contribution on functions important for speech processing.In Paper C the test battery developed in Paper B was used to study listening situations with different kinds of background noise. Interfering noise at +10 dB signal-to-noise ratio has significant negative effects on performance in speech processing tasks and on the effort perceived. Hearing-impaired subjects showed poorer results in noise with temporal variations, and elderly subjects were more distracted by noise with temporal variations, especially by noise with meaningful content. In noise, all subjects, particularly those with impaired hearing, were more dependent upon visual cues than in the quiet condition.Hearing aid benefit in speech processing with and without background noise was studied in Paper D. The test battery developed in Paper B was used together with a standard measure of speech recognition. With hearing aids, speech recognition was improved in the background condition without noise and in the background condition of ordinary speech. Significantly less effort was perceived in the cognitive tests when hearing aids were used, although only minor benefits of hearing aid amplification were seen. This underlines the importance of considering perceived effort as a dimension when evaluating hearing aid benefit, in further research as well as in clinical practice.The results from the studies contribute to the knowledge about speech processing but also to the search for more specific evaluation of speech understanding, incorporating both sensory and cognitive factors.
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