The objective of this study was to evaluate the effectiveness of a training program for hearing-impaired listeners to improve their speech-recognition performance within a background noise when listening to amplified speech. Both noise-masked young normal-hearing listeners, used to model the performance of elderly hearing-impaired listeners, and a group of elderly hearing-impaired listeners participated in the study. Of particular interest was whether training on an isolated word list presented by a standardized talker can generalize to everyday speech communication across novel talkers.Design:
Word-recognition performance was measured for both young normal-hearing (n = 16) and older hearing-impaired (n = 7) adults. Listeners were trained on a set of 75 monosyllabic words spoken by a single female talker over a 9- to 14-day period. Performance for the familiar (trained) talker was measured before and after training in both open-set and closed-set response conditions. Performance on the trained words of the familiar talker were then compared with those same words spoken by three novel talkers and to performance on a second set of untrained words presented by both the familiar and unfamiliar talkers. The hearing-impaired listeners returned 6 mo after their initial training to examine retention of the trained words as well as their ability to transfer any knowledge gained from word training to sentences containing both trained and untrained words.Results:
Both young normal-hearing and older hearing-impaired listeners performed significantly better on the word list in which they were trained versus a second untrained list presented by the same talker. Improvements on the untrained words were small but significant, indicating some generalization to novel words. The large increase in performance on the trained words, however, was maintained across novel talkers, pointing to the listener’s greater focus on lexical memorization of the words rather than a focus on talker-specific acoustic characteristics. On return in 6 mo, listeners performed significantly better on the trained words relative to their initial baseline performance. Although the listeners performed significantly better on trained versus untrained words in isolation, once the trained words were embedded in sentences, no improvement in recognition over untrained words within the same sentences was shown.Conclusions:
Older hearing-impaired listeners were able to significantly improve their word-recognition abilities through training with one talker and to the same degree as young normal-hearing listeners. The improved performance was maintained across talkers and across time. This might imply that training a listener using a standardized list and talker may still provide benefit when these same words are presented by novel talkers outside the clinic. However, training on isolated words was not sufficient to transfer to fluent speech for the specific sentence materials used within this study. Further investigation is needed regarding approaches to improve a hearing aid user’s speech understanding in everyday communication situations.