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Older Adults at the Cocktail Party

  • M. Kathleen Pichora-FullerEmail author
  • Claude Alain
  • Bruce A. Schneider
Chapter
Part of the Springer Handbook of Auditory Research book series (SHAR, volume 60)

Abstract

Successful communication and navigation in cocktail party situations depends on complex interactions among an individual’s sensory, cognitive, and social abilities. Older adults may function well in relatively ideal communication situations, but they are notorious for their difficulties understanding speech in noisy situations such as cocktail parties. However, as healthy adults age, declines in auditory and cognitive processing may be offset by compensatory gains in ability to use context and knowledge. From a practical perspective, it is important to consider the aging auditory system in multitalker situations because these are among the most challenging situations for older adults. From a theoretical perspective, studying age-related changes in auditory processing provides a special window into the relative contributions of, and interactions among sensory, cognitive, and social abilities. In the acoustical wild, younger listeners typically function better than older listeners. Experimental evidence indicates that age-related differences in simple measures such as word recognition in quiet or noise are largely due to the bottom-up effects of age-related auditory declines. These differences can often be eliminated when auditory input is adjusted to equate the performance levels of listeners on baseline measures in quiet or noise. Notably, older adults exhibit enhanced cognitive compensation, with performance on auditory tasks being facilitated by top-down use of context and knowledge. Nevertheless, age-related differences can persist when tasks are more cognitively demanding and involve discourse comprehension, memory, and attention. At an extreme, older adults with hearing loss are at greater risk for developing cognitive impairments than peers with better hearing.

Keywords

Age-related hearing loss Auditory scene analysis Auditory spatial attention Auditory temporal processing Cognitive aging Cognitive compensation Communication ecology Contextual support Discourse comprehension Event-related potentials Listening effort Presbycusis Speech-in-noise listening Voice fundamental frequency Working memory 

Notes

Acknowledgements

This work was supported by grants to M. Kathleen Pichora-Fuller from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (RGPIN 138472), to Bruce Schneider from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (MOP-15359, TEA-1249) and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (RGPIN-9952-13), and to Claude Alain from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (MOP 106619).

Compliance with Ethics Requirements

M. Kathleen Pichora-Fuller has no conflicts of interest.

Claude Alain has no conflicts of interest.

Bruce A. Schneider has no conflicts of interest.

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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • M. Kathleen Pichora-Fuller
    • 1
    Email author
  • Claude Alain
    • 2
  • Bruce A. Schneider
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of TorontoMississaugaCanada
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyThe Rotman Research Institute, University of TorontoTorontoCanada

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