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Effects of noise and hearing loss on the conversational behaviour of seniors Roodenburg, Kristin E. J.


The purpose of this study was to investigate the effects of hearing loss and adverse listening conditions on the conversational patterns of seniors. A second goal was to determine what measures best describe these conversational patterns. Results were compared to those of a case study of a hard-of-hearing senior presented by Pichora-Fuller & Johnson (submitted). One normal-hearing and one hearing-impaired senior were selected for this study. Each subject participated in two conversations, one in an advantageous condition and one in an adverse, noisy listening condition. Participants were interviewed about their ability to understand the conversations. Further measures of comprehension included free and recognition recall tasks, a conversational fluency rating, and a detailed discourse analysis based on a transcript of the conversations. Of all the comprehension measures used, the recognition task appeared to be the most sensitive indicator of perceptual difficulty and comprehension of conversational detail. Free recall results were a good measure of relative memory for detail and gist across the different signal-to-noise ratio conditions. Results of the discourse analysis provided quantitative evidence that was able to support or contradict the comprehension difficulties indicated on the conversational fluency ratings. The discourse analysis procedure was too time-intensive to be- a viable clinical tool.' However, some aspects of the analysis, including production of new content, overt repair requests, and subtopic management, could be singled out as particularly helpful in identifying comprehension problems, indicating that a more selective analysis may suffice for clinical purposes. No marked differences in comprehension between the hearing-impaired and normal-hearing senior were observed for the conversations in advantageous listening conditions. In the adverse listening conditions, the normal-hearing participant reported greater effort, but his comprehension did not appear to be significantly affected. Results were consistent with the Pichora-Fuller & Johnson (submitted) study in that both hard-of-hearing seniors showed reduced comprehension of the conversations in adverse listening conditions on all of the comprehension measures. However, individual variables appeared to have a significant effect on conversational behaviour. In particular, the subject of the Pichora-Fuller & Johnson (submitted) study tended to conceal her hearing problems by feigning understanding, while the hearing-impaired senior of the present study appeared to initiate repairs whenever they were needed. It was evident from the results presented here that individual baseline information is essential to the assessment of conversational behaviour and comprehension difficulties.

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