The most common complaint of older hearing impaired (OHI) listeners is difficulty understanding speech in the presence of noise. However, tests of consonant-identification and sentence reception threshold (SeRT) provide different perspectives on the magnitude of impairment. Here we quantified speech perception difficulties in 24 OHI listeners in unaided and aided conditions by analyzing (1) consonant-identification thresholds and consonant confusions for 20 onset and 20 coda consonants in consonant-vowel-consonant (CVC) syllables presented at consonant-specific signal-to-noise (SNR) levels, and (2) SeRTs obtained with the Quick Speech in Noise Test (QSIN) and the Hearing in Noise Test (HINT). Compared to older normal hearing (ONH) listeners, nearly all unaided OHI listeners showed abnormal consonant-identification thresholds, abnormal consonant confusions, and reduced psychometric function slopes. Average elevations in consonant-identification thresholds exceeded 35 dB, correlated strongly with impairments in mid-frequency hearing, and were greater for hard-to-identify consonants. Advanced digital hearing aids (HAs) improved average consonant-identification thresholds by more than 17 dB, with significant HA benefit seen in 83% of OHI listeners. HAs partially normalized consonant-identification thresholds, reduced abnormal consonant confusions, and increased the slope of psychometric functions. Unaided OHI listeners showed much smaller elevations in SeRTs (mean 6.9 dB) than in consonant-identification thresholds and SeRTs in unaided listening conditions correlated strongly (r = 0.91) with identification thresholds of easily identified consonants. HAs produced minimal SeRT benefit (2.0 dB), with only 38% of OHI listeners showing significant improvement. HA benefit on SeRTs was accurately predicted (r = 0.86) by HA benefit on easily identified consonants. Consonant-identification tests can accurately predict sentence processing deficits and HA benefit in OHI listeners.
Woods, D. L., Arbogast, T., Doss, Z., Younus, M., Herron, T. J., & Yund, E. W. (2015). Aided and unaided speech perception by older hearing impaired listeners. PLoS ONE, 10(3). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0114922