Factors Affecting Speech Understanding in Older Adults

  • Larry E. HumesEmail author
  • Judy R. Dubno
Part of the Springer Handbook of Auditory Research book series (SHAR, volume 34)


This chapter reviews various factors that affect the speech-understanding abilities of older adults. Before proceeding to the identification of several such factors, however, it is important to clearly define what is meant by “speech understanding.” This term is used to refer to either the open-set recognition or the closed-set identification of nonsense syllables, words, or sentences by human listeners. Many years ago, Miller et al. (1951) demonstrated that the distinction between open-set recognition and closed-set identification blurs as the set size for closed-set identification increases. When words were used as the speech material, Miller et al. (1951) demonstrated that the closed-set speech-identification performance of young normal-hearing listeners progressively approached that of open-set speech recognition as the set size doubled in successive steps from 2 to 256 words. Clopper et al. (2006) have also demonstrated that lexical factors (e.g., word frequency and acoustic-phonetic similarity) impacting word identification and word recognition are very similar when the set size is reasonably large for the closed-set identification task and the alternatives in the response are reasonably confusable with the stimulus item. Thus the processes of closed-set speech identification and open-set speech recognition are considered to be very similar and both are referred to here as measures of “speech understanding.”


Hearing Loss Hearing Threshold Speech Stimulus Nonsense Syllable Speech Understanding 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



This work was supported, in part, by National Institutes of Health Grants AG 008293 and AG 022334 from the National Institute on Aging (LEH) and Grants DC 00184 and DC 00422 (JRD) from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. We also thank Jayne B. Ahlstrom for her feedback on earlier drafts of the chapter.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Speech and Hearing SciencesIndiana UniversityBloomingtonUSA
  2. 2.Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck SurgeryMedical University of South CarolinaCharlestonUSA

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