Older adults are the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population, with the number of adults age 65 or older expected to grow to 70.3 million in 2030. Among this group, hearing loss is the third most prevalent chronic medical condition, with some 40-45% of adults over the age of 65 showing some degree of hearing impairment, rising to 83% in the population over the age of 70. Although considerable progress has been made in both audition and cognitive aging research, hearing loss has primarily been considered as an independent issue. This competing renewal builds on ten years of research investigating sensory-cognitive interactions as they affect spoken language comprehension and memory in adult aging. A major concern of both theoretical and practical importance is that even with a mild hearing loss, the perceptual effort older adults must expend on decoding a degraded speech signal will draw attentional resources that would otherwise be available for higher-level sentence comprehension and encoding what has been heard in memory. As such, a memory or comprehension deficit in many older adults may have an unrealized sensory origin. We propose a program of research to elucidate the mechanisms that may underlie the effect of perceptual effort on comprehension and memory for spoken information. We test a hypothesis that acuity-related listening effort, along with age-related changes in working memory and executive function, lead to a qualitative change in how sentences and discourse are processed, with results that can lead to both comprehension successes and failures. Successful outcome of this research will advance our understanding of cognitive aging at the level of theory, but also with implications for improving communicative effectiveness in older adulthood.

Public Health Relevance

Adult aging represents a balance of decline and compensation. Nowhere is this balance more important than in the ability to understand, and recall the content of, meaningful speech. When cognitive aging is accompanied by even a mild-to-moderate hearing loss, the result can be devastating to communicative effectiveness between the older adult and health care and social service providers, as well as leading to social isolation from family and friends. This research program is designed to close a critical gap in our knowledge of the interacting effects of cognitive aging and age-related hearing loss on everyday speech comprehension in older adults, and may also serve as a framework for early detection of pathological change as it affects language comprehension in the aging brain.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Aging (NIA)
Research Project (R01)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Cognition and Perception Study Section (CP)
Program Officer
Chen, Wen G
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
Brandeis University
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
Zip Code
Amichetti, Nicole M; Atagi, Eriko; Kong, Ying-Yee et al. (2018) Linguistic Context Versus Semantic Competition in Word Recognition by Younger and Older Adults With Cochlear Implants. Ear Hear 39:101-109
Rogers, Chad S; Payne, Lisa; Maharjan, Sujala et al. (2018) Older adults show impaired modulation of attentional alpha oscillations: Evidence from dichotic listening. Psychol Aging 33:246-258
Ayasse, Nicole D; Wingfield, Arthur (2018) A Tipping Point in Listening Effort: Effects of Linguistic Complexity and Age-Related Hearing Loss on Sentence Comprehension. Trends Hear 22:2331216518790907
Payne, Lisa; Rogers, Chad S; Wingfield, Arthur et al. (2017) A right-ear bias of auditory selective attention is evident in alpha oscillations. Psychophysiology 54:528-535
Ayasse, Nicole D; Lash, Amanda; Wingfield, Arthur (2016) Effort Not Speed Characterizes Comprehension of Spoken Sentences by Older Adults with Mild Hearing Impairment. Front Aging Neurosci 8:329
Wingfield, Arthur (2016) Evolution of Models of Working Memory and Cognitive Resources. Ear Hear 37 Suppl 1:35S-43S
DeCaro, Renee; Peelle, Jonathan E; Grossman, Murray et al. (2016) The Two Sides of Sensory-Cognitive Interactions: Effects of Age, Hearing Acuity, and Working Memory Span on Sentence Comprehension. Front Psychol 7:236
Peelle, Jonathan E; Wingfield, Arthur (2016) The Neural Consequences of Age-Related Hearing Loss. Trends Neurosci 39:486-497
Amichetti, Nicole M; White, Alison G; Wingfield, Arthur (2016) Multiple Solutions to the Same Problem: Utilization of Plausibility and Syntax in Sentence Comprehension by Older Adults with Impaired Hearing. Front Psychol 7:789
Lee, Yune-Sang; Min, Nam Eun; Wingfield, Arthur et al. (2016) Acoustic richness modulates the neural networks supporting intelligible speech processing. Hear Res 333:108-117

Showing the most recent 10 out of 40 publications