Age-related changes in objective and subjective speech perception in complex listening environments

Karen S. Helfer, Gabrielle R. Merchant, Peter A. Wasiuk

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


Purpose: A frequent complaint by older adults is difficulty communicating in challenging acoustic environments. The purpose of this work was to review and summarize information about how speech perception in complex listening situations changes across the adult age range. Method: This article provides a review of age-related changes in speech understanding in complex listening environments and summarizes results from several studies conducted in our laboratory. Results: Both degree of high frequency hearing loss and cognitive test performance limit individuals’ ability to understand speech in difficult listening situations as they age. The performance of middle-aged adults is similar to that of younger adults in the presence of noise maskers, but they experience substantially more difficulty when the masker is 1 or 2 competing speech messages. For the most part, middle-aged participants in studies conducted in our laboratory reported as much self-perceived hearing problems as did older adult participants. Conclusions: Research supports the multifactorial nature of listening in real-world environments. Current audiologic assessment practices are often insufficient to identify the true speech understanding struggles that individuals experience in these situations. This points to the importance of giving weight to patients’ self-reported difficulties.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3009-3018
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2017
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Speech and Hearing


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