Difficulty understanding speech in background noise, even with amplification to restore audibility, is a common problem for hearing-impaired individuals and is especially frequent in older adults. Despite the debilitating nature of the problem the cause is not yet completely clear. This review considers the role of spatial processing ability in understanding speech in noise, highlights the potential impact of disordered spatial processing, and attempts to establish if aging leads to reduced spatial processing ability. Evidence supporting and opposing the hypothesis that spatial processing is disordered among the aging population is presented. With a few notable exceptions, spatial processing ability was shown to be reduced in an older population in comparison to young adults, leading to poorer speech understanding in noise. However, it is argued that to conclude aging negatively effects spatial processing ability may be oversimplified or even premature given potentially confounding factors such as cognitive ability and hearing impairment. Further research is required to determine the effect of aging and hearing impairment on spatial processing and to investigate possible remediation options for spatial processing disorder.
- simultaneous stream segregation
- spatial processing
- speech understanding in noise