Poor auditory speech perception in geriatrics is attributable to neural de-synchronisation due to structural and degenerative changes of ageing auditory pathways. The speech-evoked auditory brainstem response may be useful for detecting alterations that cause loss of speech discrimination. Therefore, this study aimed to compare the speech-evoked auditory brainstem response in adult and geriatric populations with normal hearing.
The auditory brainstem responses to click sounds and to a 40 ms speech sound (the Hindi phoneme |da|) were compared in 25 young adults and 25 geriatric people with normal hearing. The latencies and amplitudes of transient peaks representing neural responses to the onset, offset and sustained portions of the speech stimulus in quiet and noisy conditions were recorded.
The older group had significantly smaller amplitudes and longer latencies for the onset and offset responses to |da| in noisy conditions. Stimulus-to-response times were longer and the spectral amplitude of the sustained portion of the stimulus was reduced. The overall stimulus level caused significant shifts in latency across the entire speech-evoked auditory brainstem response in the older group.
The reduction in neural speech processing in older adults suggests diminished subcortical responsiveness to acoustically dynamic spectral cues. However, further investigations are needed to encode temporal cues at the brainstem level and determine their relationship to speech perception for developing a routine tool for clinical decision-making.
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