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1.  Word Intelligibility and Age Predict Visual Cortex Activity during Word Listening 
Cerebral Cortex (New York, NY)  2012;22(6):1360-1371.
The distractibility that older adults experience when listening to speech in challenging conditions has been attributed in part to reduced inhibition of irrelevant information within and across sensory systems. Whereas neuroimaging studies have shown that younger adults readily suppress visual cortex activation when listening to auditory stimuli, it is unclear the extent to which declining inhibition in older adults results in reduced suppression or compensatory engagement of other sensory cortices. The current functional magnetic resonance imaging study examined the effects of age and stimulus intelligibility in a word listening task. Across all participants, auditory cortex was engaged when listening to words. However, increasing age and declining word intelligibility had independent and spatially similar effects: both were associated with increasing engagement of visual cortex. Visual cortex activation was not explained by age-related differences in vascular reactivity but rather auditory and visual cortices were functionally connected across word listening conditions. The nature of this correlation changed with age: younger adults deactivated visual cortex when activating auditory cortex, middle-aged adults showed no relation, and older adults synchronously activated both cortices. These results suggest that age and stimulus integrity are additive modulators of crossmodal suppression and activation.
PMCID: PMC3357178  PMID: 21862447
aging; crossmodal; fMRI; speech perception; vascular reactivity
2.  Human Evoked Cortical Activity to Silent Gaps in Noise: Effects of Age, Attention, and Cortical Processing Speed 
Ear and Hearing  2012;33(3):330-339.
The goal of this study was to examine the degree to which age-related differences in early or automatic levels of auditory processing and attention-related processes explain age-related differences in auditory temporal processing. We hypothesized that age-related differences in attention and cognition compound age-related differences at automatic levels of processing, contributing to the robust age effects observed during challenging listening tasks.
We examined age-related and individual differences in cortical event-related potential (ERP) amplitudes and latencies, processing speed, and gap detection from twenty-five younger and twenty-five older adults with normal hearing. ERPs were elicited by brief silent periods (gaps) in an otherwise continuous broadband noise and were measured under two listening conditions, passive and active. During passive listening, participants ignored the stimulus and read quietly. During active listening, participants button pressed each time they detected a gap. Gap detection (percent detected) was calculated for each gap duration during active listening (3, 6, 9, 12 and 15 ms). Processing speed was assessed using the Purdue Pegboard test and the Connections Test. Repeated measures ANOVAs assessed effects of age on gap detection, processing speed, and ERP amplitudes and latencies. An “attention modulation” construct was created using linear regression to examine the effects of attention while controlling for age-related differences in auditory processing. Pearson correlation analyses assessed the extent to which attention modulation, ERPs, and processing speed predicted behavioral gap detection. Results: Older adults had significantly poorer gap detection and slower processing speed than younger adults. Even after adjusting for poorer gap detection, the neurophysiological response to gap onset was atypical in older adults with reduced P2 amplitudes and virtually absent N2 responses. Moreover, individual differences in attention modulation of P2 response latencies and N2 amplitudes predicted gap detection and processing speed in older adults. That is, older adults with P2 latencies that decreased and N2 amplitudes that increased with active listening had faster processing speed and better gap detection than those older adults whose P2 latencies increased and N2 amplitudes decreased with attention
Results from the current study are broadly consistent with previous findings that older adults exhibit significantly poorer gap detection than younger adults in challenging tasks. Even after adjusting for poorer gap detection, older and younger adults showed robust differences in their electrophysiological responses to sound offset. Furthermore, the degree to which attention modulated the ERP was associated with individual variation in measures of processing speed and gap detection. Taken together, these results suggests an age-related deficit in early or automatic levels of auditory temporal processing and that some older adults may be less able to compensate for declines in processing by attending to the stimulus. These results extend our previous findings and support the hypothesis that age-related differences in cognitive or attention-related processing, including processing speed, contribute to an age-related decrease in gap detection.
PMCID: PMC3340542  PMID: 22374321
3.  Inferior frontal sensitivity to common speech sounds is amplified by increasing word intelligibility 
Neuropsychologia  2011;49(13):3563-3572.
The left inferior frontal gyrus (LIFG) exhibits increased responsiveness when people listen to words composed of speech sounds that frequently co-occur in the English language (Vaden, Piquado, Hickok, 2011), termed high phonotactic frequency (Vitevitch & Luce, 1998). The current experiment aimed to further characterize the relation of phonotactic frequency to LIFG activity by manipulating word intelligibility in participants of varying age. Thirty six native English speakers, 19–79 years old (mean = 50.5, sd = 21.0) indicated with a button press whether they recognized 120 binaurally presented consonant-vowel-consonant words during a sparse sampling fMRI experiment (TR = 8 sec). Word intelligibility was manipulated by low-pass filtering (cutoff frequencies of 400 Hz, 1000 Hz, 1600 Hz, and 3150 Hz). Group analyses revealed a significant positive correlation between phonotactic frequency and LIFG activity, which was unaffected by age and hearing thresholds. A region of interest analysis revealed that the relation between phonotactic frequency and LIFG activity was significantly strengthened for the most intelligible words (low-pass cutoff at 3150 Hz). These results suggest that the responsiveness of the left inferior frontal cortex to phonotactic frequency reflects the downstream impact of word recognition rather than support of word recognition, at least when there are no speech production demands.
PMCID: PMC3207245  PMID: 21925521
4.  Age-related differences in gap detection: Effects of task difficulty and cognitive ability 
Hearing research  2009;264(1-2):21-29.
Differences in gap detection for younger and older adults have been shown to vary with the complexity of the task or stimuli, but the factors that contribute to these differences remain unknown. To address this question, we examined the extent to which age-related differences in processing speed and workload predicted age-related differences in gap detection. Gap detection thresholds were measured for 10 younger and 11 older adults in two conditions that varied in task complexity but used identical stimuli: (1) gap location fixed at the beginning, middle, or end of a noise burst and (2) gap location varied randomly from trial to trial from the beginning, middle, or end of the noise. We hypothesized that gap location uncertainty would place increased demands on cognitive and attentional resources and result in significantly higher gap detection thresholds for older but not younger adults. Overall, gap detection thresholds were lower for the middle location as compared to beginning and end locations and were lower for the fixed than the random condition. In general, larger age-related differences in gap detection were observed for more challenging conditions. That is, gap detection thresholds for older adults were significantly larger for the random condition than for the fixed condition when the gap was at the beginning and end locations but not the middle. In contrast, gap detection thresholds for younger adults were not significantly different for the random and fixed condition at any location. Subjective ratings of workload indicated that older adults found the gap-detection task more mentally demanding than younger adults. Consistent with these findings, results of the Purdue Pegboard and Connections tests revealed age-related slowing of processing speed. Moreover, age group differences in workload and processing speed predicted gap detection in younger and older adults when gap location varied from trial to trial; these associations were not observed when gap location remained constant across trials. Taken together, these results suggest that age-related differences in complex measures of auditory temporal processing may be explained, in part, by age-related deficits in processing speed and attention.
PMCID: PMC2868108  PMID: 19800958
aging; auditory temporal processing; gap detection; processing speed; workload; cognitive
5.  Age-Related Changes in Processing Speed: Unique Contributions of Cerebellar and Prefrontal Cortex 
Age-related declines in processing speed are hypothesized to underlie the widespread changes in cognition experienced by older adults. We used a structural covariance approach to identify putative neural networks that underlie age-related structural changes associated with processing speed for 42 adults ranging in age from 19 to 79 years. To characterize a potential mechanism by which age-related gray matter changes lead to slower processing speed, we examined the extent to which cerebral small vessel disease influenced the association between age-related gray matter changes and processing speed. A frontal pattern of gray matter and white matter variation that was related to cerebral small vessel disease, as well as a cerebellar pattern of gray matter and white matter variation were uniquely related to age-related declines in processing speed. These results demonstrate that at least two distinct factors affect age-related changes in processing speed, which might be slowed by mitigating cerebral small vessel disease and factors affecting declines in cerebellar morphology.
PMCID: PMC2839847  PMID: 20300463
aging; processing speed; cerebellum; cerebral small vessel disease; structural covariance
6.  Speech recognition in younger and older adults: a dependency on low-level auditory cortex 
A common complaint of older adults is difficulty understanding speech, especially in challenging listening environments. In addition to well known declines in the peripheral auditory system that reduce audibility, age-related changes in central auditory and attention-related systems are hypothesized to have additive negative effects on speech recognition. We examined the extent to which functional and structural differences in speech- and attention-related cortex predicted differences in word recognition between 18 younger adults (19–39 years) and 18 older adults (61–79 years). Subjects performed a word recognition task in an MRI scanner where the intelligibility of words was parametrically varied. Older adults exhibited significantly poorer word recognition in a challenging listening condition compared to younger adults. An anteromedial Heschl’s gyrus/superior temporal gyrus (HG/STG) region, engaged by the word recognition task, exhibited age group differences in gray matter volume and predicted word recognition in younger and older adults. Age group differences in anterior cingulate (ACC) activation were also observed. The association between HG gray matter volume, word recognition, and ACC activation was present after controlling for hearing loss. In younger and older adults, causal path modeling analyses demonstrated that individual variation in left HG/STG morphology affected word recognition performance, which was reflected by error monitoring activity in the dorsal ACC. These results have clinical implications for rehabilitation and suggest that some of the perceptual difficulties experienced by older adults are due to structural changes in HG/STG. More broadly, the results suggest the possibility that aging may exaggerate developmental limitations on the ability to recognize speech.
PMCID: PMC2717741  PMID: 19439585
aging; auditory cortex; gray matter; word recognition; auditory; speech

Results 1-6 (6)