Auditory-frontal Channeling in α and β Bands is Altered by Age-related Hearing Loss and Relates to Speech Perception in Noise


Difficulty understanding speech-in-noise (SIN) is a pervasive problem faced by older adults particularly those with hearing loss. Previous studies have identified structural and functional changes in the brain that contribute to older adults’ speech perception difficulties. Yet, many of these studies use neuroimaging techniques that evaluate only gross activation in isolated brain regions. Neural oscillations may provide further insight into the processes underlying SIN perception as well as the interaction between auditory cortex and prefrontal linguistic brain regions that mediate complex behaviors. We examined frequency-specific neural oscillations and functional connectivity of the EEG in older adults with and without hearing loss during an active SIN perception task. Brain-behavior correlations revealed listeners who were more resistant to the detrimental effects of noise also demonstrated greater modulation of α phase coherence between clean and noise-degraded speech, suggesting α desynchronization reflects release from inhibition and more flexible allocation of neural resources. Additionally, we found top-down β connectivity between prefrontal and auditory cortices strengthened with poorer hearing thresholds despite minimal behavioral differences. This is consistent with the proposal that linguistic brain areas may be recruited to compensate for impoverished auditory inputs through increased top-down predictions to assist SIN perception. Overall, these results emphasize the importance of top-down signaling in low-frequency brain rhythms that help compensate for hearing-related declines and facilitate efficient SIN processing.

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