Cortical Correlates of Binaural Temporal Processing Deficits in Older Adults
Objectives: This study was designed to evaluate binaural temporal processing in young and older adults using a binaural masking level difference (BMLD) paradigm. Using behavioral and electrophysiological measures within the same listeners, a series of stimulus manipulations was used to evaluate the relative contribution of binaural temporal fine-structure and temporal envelope cues. We evaluated the hypotheses that age-related declines in the BMLD task would be more strongly associated with temporal fine-structure than envelope cues and that age-related declines in behavioral measures would be correlated with cortical auditory evoked potential (CAEP) measures.
Design: Thirty adults participated in the study, including 10 young normal-hearing, 10 older normal-hearing, and 10 older hearing-impaired adults with bilaterally symmetric, mild-to-moderate sensorineural hearing loss. Behavioral and CAEP thresholds were measured for diotic (So) and dichotic (Sπ) tonal signals presented in continuous diotic (No) narrowband noise (50-Hz wide) maskers. Temporal envelope cues were manipulated by using two different narrowband maskers; Gaussian noise (GN) with robust envelope fluctuations and low-noise noise (LNN) with minimal envelope fluctuations. The potential to use temporal fine-structure cues was controlled by varying the signal frequency (500 or 4000 Hz), thereby relying on the natural decline in phase-locking with increasing frequency.
Results: Behavioral and CAEP thresholds were similar across groups for diotic conditions, while the masking release in dichotic conditions was larger for younger than for older participants. Across all participants, BMLDs were larger for GN than LNN and for 500-Hz than for 4000-Hz conditions, where envelope and fine-structure cues were most salient, respectively. Specific age-related differences were demonstrated for 500-Hz dichotic conditions in GN and LNN, reflecting reduced binaural temporal fine-structure coding. No significant age effects were observed for 4000-Hz dichotic conditions, consistent with similar use of binaural temporal envelope cues across age in these conditions. For all groups, thresholds and derived BMLD values obtained using the behavioral and CAEP methods were strongly correlated, supporting the notion that CAEP measures may be useful as an objective index of age-related changes in binaural temporal processing.
Conclusions: These results demonstrate an age-related decline in the processing of binaural temporal fine-structure cues with preserved temporal envelope coding that was similar with and without mild-to-moderate peripheral hearing loss. Such age-related changes can be reliably indexed by both behavioral and CAEP measures in young and older adults.