Age-related Hearing Loss and Ear Morphology Affect Vertical but not Horizontal Sound-Localization Performance

  • Rik J. Otte
  • Martijn J. H. Agterberg
  • Marc M. Van Wanrooij
  • Ad F. M. Snik
  • A. John Van Opstal
Research Article

Abstract

Several studies have attributed deterioration of sound localization in the horizontal (azimuth) and vertical (elevation) planes to an age-related decline in binaural processing and high-frequency hearing loss (HFHL). The latter might underlie decreased elevation performance of older adults. However, as the pinnae keep growing throughout life, we hypothesized that larger ears might enable older adults to localize sounds in elevation on the basis of lower frequencies, thus (partially) compensating their HFHL. In addition, it is not clear whether sound localization has already matured at a very young age, when the body is still growing, and the binaural and monaural sound-localization cues change accordingly. The present study investigated sound-localization performance of children (7–11 years), young adults (20–34 years), and older adults (63–80 years) under open-loop conditions in the two-dimensional frontal hemifield. We studied the effect of age-related hearing loss and ear size on localization responses to brief broadband sound bursts with different bandwidths. We found similar localization abilities in azimuth for all listeners, including the older adults with HFHL. Sound localization in elevation for the children and young adult listeners with smaller ears improved when stimuli contained frequencies above 7 kHz. Subjects with larger ears could also judge the elevation of sound sources restricted to lower frequency content. Despite increasing ear size, sound localization in elevation deteriorated in older adults with HFHL. We conclude that the binaural localization cues are successfully used well into later stages of life, but that pinna growth cannot compensate the more profound HFHL with age.

Keywords

children directional hearing ear morphology head movements older adults transfer function 

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Copyright information

© Association for Research in Otolaryngology 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rik J. Otte
    • 1
  • Martijn J. H. Agterberg
    • 1
    • 2
  • Marc M. Van Wanrooij
    • 1
    • 2
  • Ad F. M. Snik
    • 2
  • A. John Van Opstal
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Biophysics, Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and BehaviourRadboud University NijmegenNijmegenThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Department of Otorhinolaryngology, Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and BehaviourRadboud University Nijmegen Medical CentreNijmegenThe Netherlands

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