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Study links changes in the brain to age-related hearing loss

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Bethesda, MD – Declining speech-processing abilities in the brain may contribute to hearing loss in older adults, according to a recent study from researchers at the University of Maryland.

The researchers examined 32 adult volunteers with clinically normal hearing. Participants were placed in two groups: one with people whose average age was 22 and another with people averaging age 65. Using a speech-in-noise test, researchers calculated participants’ ability to comprehend speech both in quiet settings and in environments with more than one person talking. Subjects also underwent two scans to measure electrical activity in the midbrain and cortex.

Results showed that older adults had greater difficulty tracking speech in both quiet and noisy environments. In addition, older adults required more time to process acoustic cues such as accuracy of speech and had lower scores on the speech-in-noise comprehension test.

Researchers also reported neural deficits in the midbrain and cortex as a result of aging.

According to the study abstract, the findings indicate the aging brain’s inability to correctly interpret some sound signals in different environments could be a contributing factor to an adult’s inability to hear at certain volumes.

The study was published online Sept. 7 in the Journal of Neurophysiology.

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