This research program in speech perception and auditory psychophysics examines the hypothesis that many of the predominant difficulties in speech understanding of elderly listeners are related to underlying problems in auditory temporal processing. One form of degraded speech that is particularly difficult for elderly listeners to perceive is accented English. Alterations of speech stress and timing with accent may be viewed as a form of degradation in temporal aspects of speech prosody, and this type of temporal distortion is the focus of investigation in the next project period. Moreover, psychoacoustic results demonstrate that large age-related difficulties in temporal processing exist for the perception of auditory tempo and rhythmic characteristics of sequential stimulus patterns featuring a stressed tone. Listener processing difficulty could be attributed to periphera and/or central processing mechanisms, as well as various cognitive factors, including the degree of familiarity with prosodic features of different native languages. The project examines the relative contribution of peripheral hearing impairment, type of stimulus temporal complexity and cognitive demand, and the linguistic background experience of listeners on the processing of temporal prosody cues in speech and non-speech stimulus patterns. The project comprises four aims of investigation, each consisting of a series of speech and non-speech discrimination and recognition tasks.
Aim 1 investigates the sources of age-related differences in temporal sensitivity for discrimination and identification of accented speech and correlated non-speech segments that vary in stress patterns.
Aim 2 measures the influences of listener age and linguistic background on discrimination of temporal cues within speech and non-speech sequences that vary in prosodic temporal structure and presentation rate.
Aim 3 examines the efficacy of auditory training paradigms with stimuli that feature temporal contrasts for improving perception of accented English and non-speech sequences by older people.
Aim 4 will examine the effects of age on the ability to integrate temporal information across auditory and visual modalities in processing unaccented and accented speech and non-speech stimulus sequences. Participants in the project will include groups of subjects that differ by age, hearing sensitivity, and for some experiments, native language background. The research described in this application seeks to address one goal outlined by the National Institute on Aging: to develop effective interventions to maintain health and function and prevent or reduce the burden of age-related diseases, disorders, and disabilities. The approach in this research program involves (a) an assessment of the problems encountered in daily activities by the elderly population, (b) an analysis of specific task demands in relation to individual capabilities, and (c) basic research on sensory and perceptual changes with age and on the ameliorating effects of emerging technologies (including rehabilitation). This three-dimensional approach is expected to further progress toward improving communication and health-related quality of life for senior citizens.

Public Health Relevance

Older people experience great difficulty understanding speech, especially accented English, and this problem is expected to increase with the influx of immigrants who provide services to the elderly population. The research examines the underlying factors that contribute to older listeners'difficulty understanding accented speech, as well as the efficacy of training strategies to improve understanding of accented English by older people. Outcomes of this research are expected to improve communication between senior citizens and those with whom they interact daily, and thereby improve quality of life for the older segment of the Nation's population.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Aging (NIA)
Research Project (R01)
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Study Section
Auditory System Study Section (AUD)
Program Officer
Chen, Wen G
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University of Maryland College Park
Other Health Professions
Schools of Arts and Sciences
College Park
United States
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Gordon-Salant, Sandra; Fitzgibbons, Peter J (2004) Effects of stimulus and noise rate variability on speech perception by younger and older adults. J Acoust Soc Am 115:1808-17
Fitzgibbons, Peter J; Gordon-Salant, Sandra (2004) Age effects on discrimination of timing in auditory sequences. J Acoust Soc Am 116:1126-34
Gordon-Salant, S; Fitzgibbons, P J (2001) Sources of age-related recognition difficulty for time-compressed speech. J Speech Lang Hear Res 44:709-19
Fitzgibbons, P J; Gordon-Salant, S (2001) Aging and temporal discrimination in auditory sequences. J Acoust Soc Am 109:2955-63
Phillips, S L; Gordon-Salant, S; Fitzgibbons, P J et al. (2000) Frequency and temporal resolution in elderly listeners with good and poor word recognition. J Speech Lang Hear Res 43:217-28
Gordon-Salant, S; Fitzgibbons, P J (1999) Profile of auditory temporal processing in older listeners. J Speech Lang Hear Res 42:300-11
Fitzgibbons, P J; Gordon-Salant, S (1998) Auditory temporal order perception in younger and older adults. J Speech Lang Hear Res 41:1052-60
Gordon-Salant, S; Fitzgibbons, P J (1997) Selected cognitive factors and speech recognition performance among young and elderly listeners. J Speech Lang Hear Res 40:423-31
Fitzgibbons, P J; Gordon-Salant, S (1996) Auditory temporal processing in elderly listeners. J Am Acad Audiol 7:183-9
Gordon-Salant, S; Fitzgibbons, P J (1995) Comparing recognition of distorted speech using an equivalent signal-to-noise ratio index. J Speech Hear Res 38:706-13

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