Effects of Noise Level and Cognitive Function on Speech Perception in Normal Elderly and Elderly with Amnestic Mild Cognitive Impairment

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Abstract

Objective and Background:

Along with auditory function, cognitive function contributes to speech perception in the presence of background noise. Older adults with cognitive impairment might, therefore, have more difficulty perceiving speech-in-noise than their peers who have normal cognitive function. We compared the effects of noise level and cognitive function on speech perception in patients with amnestic mild cognitive impairment (aMCI), cognitively normal older adults, and cognitively normal younger adults.

Methods:

We studied 14 patients with aMCI and 14 age-, education-, and hearing threshold-matched cognitively intact older adults as experimental groups, and 14 younger adults as a control group. We assessed speech perception with monosyllabic word and sentence recognition tests at four noise levels: quiet condition and signal-to-noise ratio +5 dB, 0 dB, and −5 dB. We also evaluated the aMCI group with a neuropsychological assessment.

Results:

Controlling for hearing thresholds, we found that the aMCI group scored significantly lower than both the older adults and the younger adults only when the noise level was high (signal-to-noise ratio −5 dB). At signal-to-noise ratio −5 dB, both older groups had significantly lower scores than the younger adults on the sentence recognition test. The aMCI group’s sentence recognition performance was related to their executive function scores.

Conclusions:

Our findings suggest that patients with aMCI have more problems communicating in noisy situations in daily life than do their cognitively healthy peers and that older listeners with more difficulties understanding speech in noise should be considered for testing of neuropsychological function as well as hearing.

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