An issue commonly expressed by hearing aid users is a difficulty to understand speech in complex hearing scenarios, that is, when speech is presented together with background noise or in situations with multiple speakers. Conventional hearing aids are already designed with these issues in mind, using beamforming to only enhance sound from a specific direction, but these are limited in solving these issues as they can only modulate incoming sound at the cochlear level. However, evidence exists that age-related hearing loss might partially be caused later in the hearing processes due to brain processes slowing down and becoming less efficient. In this study, we tested whether it would be possible to improve the hearing process at the cortical level by improving neural tracking of speech. The speech envelopes of target sentences were transformed into an electrical signal and stimulated onto elderly participants’ cortices using transcranial alternating current stimulation (tACS). We compared 2 different signal to noise ratios (SNRs) with 5 different delays between sound presentation and stimulation ranging from 50 ms to 150 ms, and the differences in effects between elderly normal hearing and elderly hearing impaired participants. When the task was performed at a high SNR, hearing impaired participants appeared to gain more from envelope-tACS compared to when the task was performed at a lower SNR. This was not the case for normal hearing participants. Furthermore, a post-hoc analysis of the different time-lags suggest that elderly were significantly better at a stimulation time-lag of 150 ms when the task was presented at a high SNR. In this paper, we outline why these effects are worth exploring further, and what they tell us about the optimal tACS time-lag.
Neurosci Insights. 2021 Feb 24;16:2633105520988854. doi: 10.1177/2633105520988854. eCollection 2021.