How do aging and age-related hearing loss affect the ability to communicate effectively in challenging communicative conditions?

Valerie Hazan*, Outi Tuomainen, Lilian Tu, Jeesun Kim, Chris Davis, Douglas Brungart, Benjamin Sheffield

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


This study investigated the relation between the intelligibility of conversational and clear speech produced by older and younger adults and (a) the acoustic profile of their speech (b) communication effectiveness. Speech samples from 30 talkers from the elderLUCID corpus were used: 10 young adults (YA), 10 older adults with normal hearing (OANH) and 10 older adults with presbycusis (OAHL). Samples were extracted from recordings made while participants completed a problem-solving cooperative task (diapix) with a conversational partner who could either hear them easily (NORM) or via a simulated hearing loss (HLS), which led talkers to naturally adopt a clear speaking style. In speech-in-noise listening experiments involving 21 young adult listeners, speech samples by OANH and OAHL were rated and perceived as less intelligible than those of YA talkers. HLS samples were more intelligible than NORM samples, with greater improvements in intelligibility across conditions seen for OA speech. The presence of presbycusis affected (a) the clear speech strategies adopted by OAHL talkers and (b) task effectiveness: OAHL talkers showed some adaptations consistent with an increase in vocal effort, and it took them significantly longer than the YA group to complete the diapix task. The relative energy in the 1–3 kHz frequency region of the long-term average spectrum was the feature that best predicted: (a) the intelligibility of speech samples, and (b) task transaction time in the HLS condition. Overall, our study suggests that spontaneous speech produced by older adults is less intelligible in babble noise, probably due to less energy present in the 1–3 kHz frequency range rich in acoustic cues. Even mild presbycusis in ‘healthy aged’ adults can affect the dynamic adaptations in speech that are beneficial for effective communication.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)33-41
Number of pages9
JournalHearing Research
StatePublished - Nov 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Age-related hearing loss
  • Aging
  • Intelligibility
  • Speech communication
  • Spontaneous speech


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