Cognitive and neural predictors of speech comprehension in noisy backgrounds in older adults
Older adults often experience difficulties comprehending speech in noisy backgrounds, which hearing loss does not fully explain. It remains unknown how cognitive abilities, brain networks, and age-related hearing loss may uniquely contribute to speech in noise comprehension at the sentence level. In 31 older adults, using cognitive measures and resting-state fMRI, we investigated the cognitive and neural predictors of speech comprehension with energetic (broadband noise) and informational masking (multi-speakers) effects. Better hearing thresholds and greater working memory abilities were associated with better speech comprehension with energetic masking. Conversely, faster processing speed and stronger functional connectivity between frontoparietal and language networks were associated with better speech comprehension with informational masking. Our findings highlight the importance of the frontoparietal network in older adults’ ability to comprehend speech in multi-speaker backgrounds, and that hearing loss and working memory in older adults contributes to speech comprehension abilities related to energetic, but not informational masking.