Multitasking with typical use of hearing aid noise reduction in older listeners


Objective: Older hearing-impaired adults typically experience difficulties understanding speech in noise. Most hearing aids address this issue using digital noise reduction. While noise reduction does not necessarily improve speech recognition, it may reduce the resources required to process the speech signal. Those available resources may, in turn, aid the ability to perform another task while listening to speech (ie, multitasking). This study examined to what extent changing the strength of digital noise reduction in hearing aids affects the ability to multitask. Design: Multitasking was measured using a dual-task paradigm, combining a speech recognition task and a visual monitoring task. The speech recognition task involved sentence recognition in the presence of six-talker babble at signal-to-noise ratios (SNRs) of 2 and 7 dB. Participants were fit with commercially-available hearing aids programmed under three noise reduction settings: off, mild, strong. Study sample: 18 hearing-impaired older adults. Results: There were no effects of noise reduction on the ability to multitask, or on the ability to recognize speech in noise. Conclusions: Adjustment of noise reduction settings in the clinic may not invariably improve performance for some tasks.