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A person's ability to process temporal fine structure information is indispensable for speech understanding. As speech understanding typically deteriorates throughout adult life, this study aimed to disentangle age and hearing impairment (HI)-related changes in binaural temporal processing. This was achieved by examining neural and behavioral processing of interaural phase differences (IPDs). Neural IPD processing was studied electrophysiologically through steady-state activity in the electroencephalogram evoked by periodic changes in IPDs over time, embedded in the temporal fine structure of acoustic stimulation. In addition, behavioral IPD discrimination thresholds were determined for the same stimuli. To disentangle potential effects of age from those of HI, both measures were applied to six participant groups: young, middle-aged, and older persons, with either normal hearing or sensorineural HI. All participants passed a cognitive screening, and stimulus audibility was controlled for in participants with HI. The results demonstrated that HI changes neural processing of binaural temporal information for all age-groups included in this study. These outcomes were revealed, superimposed on age-related changes that emerge between young adulthood and middle age. Poorer neural outcomes were also associated with poorer behavioral performance, even though the behavioral IPD discrimination thresholds were affected by age rather than by HI. The neural outcomes of this study are the first to evidence and disentangle the dual load of age and HI on binaural temporal processing. These results could be a valuable first step toward future research on rehabilitation.
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- hearing loss
- auditory evoked potentials