Older adults often experience communication difficulties, including poorer comprehension of auditory speech when it contains complex sentence structures or occurs in noisy environments. Previous work has linked cognitive abilities and the engagement of domain-general cognitive resources, such as the cingulo-opercular and frontoparietal brain networks, in response to challenging speech. However, the degree to which these networks can support comprehension remains unclear. Furthermore, how hearing loss may be related to the cognitive resources recruited during challenging speech comprehension is unknown. This dissertation investigated how hearing, cognitive performance, and functional brain networks contribute to challenging auditory speech comprehension in older adults. Experiment 1 characterized how age and hearing loss modulate resting-state functional connectivity between Heschl’s gyrus and several sensory and cognitive brain networks. The results indicate that older adults exhibit decreased functional connectivity between Heschl’s gyrus and sensory and attention networks compared to younger adults. Within older adults, greater hearing loss was associated with increased functional connectivity between right Heschl’s gyrus and the cingulo-opercular and language networks. Experiments 2 and 3 investigated how hearing, working memory, attentional control, and fMRI measures predict comprehension of complex sentence structures and speech in noisy environments. Experiment 2 utilized resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and behavioral measures of working memory and attentional control. Experiment 3 used activation-based fMRI to examine the brain regions recruited in response to sentences with both complex structures and in noisy background environments as a function of hearing and cognitive abilities. The results suggest that working memory abilities and the functionality of the frontoparietal and language networks support the comprehension of speech in multi-speaker environments. Conversely, attentional control and the cingulo-opercular network were shown to support comprehension of complex sentence structures. Hearing loss was shown to decrease activation within right Heschl’s gyrus in response to all sentence conditions and increase activation within frontoparietal and cingulo-opercular regions. Hearing loss also was associated with poorer sentence comprehension in energetic, but not informational, masking. Together, these three experiments identify the unique contributions of cognition and brain networks that support challenging auditory speech comprehension in older adults, further probing how hearing loss affects these relationships.
- Functional Brain Differences Predict Challenging Auditory Speech Comprehension in Older Adults
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