Using a longitudinal design, the present study sought to substantiate indications from two previous cross-sectional studies that hearing aid (HA) experience leads to improved speech processing abilities as quantified using eye-gaze measurements. Another aim was to explore potential concomitant changes in event-related potentials (ERPs) to speech stimuli.Design:
Groups of elderly novice (novHA) and experienced (expHA) HA users matched in terms of age and working memory capacity participated. The novHA users were acclimatized to bilateral HA fittings for up to 24 weeks. The expHA users continued to use their own HAs during the same period. The participants’ speech processing abilities were assessed after 0 weeks (novHA: N = 16; expHA: N = 14), 12 weeks (novHA: N = 16; expHA: N = 14), and 24 weeks (N = 10 each). To that end, an eye-tracking paradigm was used for estimating how quickly the participants could grasp the meaning of sentences presented against background noise together with two similar pictures that either correctly or incorrectly depicted the meaning conveyed by the sentences (the “processing time”). Additionally, ERPs were measured with an active oddball paradigm requiring the participants to categorize word stimuli as living (targets) or nonliving (nontargets) entities. For all measurements, the stimuli were spectrally shaped according to individual real-ear insertion gains and presented via earphones.Results:
Concerning the processing times, no changes across time were found for the expHA group. After 0 weeks of HA use, the novHA group had significantly longer (poorer) processing times than the expHA group, consistent with previous findings. After 24 weeks, a significant mean improvement of ~30% was observed for the novHA users, leading to a performance comparable with that of the expHA group. Concerning the ERPs, no changes across time were found.Conclusions:
The results from this exploratory study are consistent with the view that auditory acclimatization to HAs positively impacts speech comprehension in noise. Further research is needed to substantiate them.