Vocal Biomarkers of Mild-to-Moderate Hearing Loss in Children and Adults: Voiceless Sibilants Purpose The purpose of this study was to determine if an objective measure of speech production could serve as a vocal biomarker for the effects of high-frequency hearing loss on speech perception. It was hypothesized that production of voiceless sibilants is governed sufficiently by auditory feedback that high-frequency hearing loss ... Research Article
Research Article  |   November 08, 2018
Vocal Biomarkers of Mild-to-Moderate Hearing Loss in Children and Adults: Voiceless Sibilants
 
Author Affiliations & Notes
  • Andrea L. Pittman
    Department of Speech and Hearing Science, Arizona State University, Tempe
  • Ayoub Daliri
    Department of Speech and Hearing Science, Arizona State University, Tempe
  • Lauren Meadows
    Department of Speech and Hearing Science, Arizona State University, Tempe
  • Disclosure: The authors have declared that no competing interests existed at the time of publication.
    Disclosure: The authors have declared that no competing interests existed at the time of publication. ×
  • Correspondence to Andrea L. Pittman: andrea.pittman@asu.edu
  • Editor-in-Chief: Frederick (Erick) Gallun
    Editor-in-Chief: Frederick (Erick) Gallun×
  • Editor: Lori J. Leibold
    Editor: Lori J. Leibold×
Article Information
Hearing & Speech Perception / Hearing Disorders / Speech, Voice & Prosody / Hearing / Research Articles
Research Article   |   November 08, 2018
Vocal Biomarkers of Mild-to-Moderate Hearing Loss in Children and Adults: Voiceless Sibilants
Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, November 2018, Vol. 61, 2814-2826. doi:10.1044/2018_JSLHR-H-17-0460
History: Received December 15, 2017 , Revised May 4, 2018 , Accepted July 8, 2018
 
Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, November 2018, Vol. 61, 2814-2826. doi:10.1044/2018_JSLHR-H-17-0460
History: Received December 15, 2017; Revised May 4, 2018; Accepted July 8, 2018

Purpose The purpose of this study was to determine if an objective measure of speech production could serve as a vocal biomarker for the effects of high-frequency hearing loss on speech perception. It was hypothesized that production of voiceless sibilants is governed sufficiently by auditory feedback that high-frequency hearing loss results in subtle but significant shifts in the spectral characteristics of these sibilants.

Method Sibilant production was examined in individuals with mild to moderately severe congenital (22 children; 8–17 years old) and acquired (23 adults; 55–80 years old) hearing losses. Measures of hearing level (pure-tone average thresholds at 4 and 8 kHz), speech perception (detection of nonsense words within sentences), and speech production (spectral center of gravity [COG] for /s/ and /ʃ/) were obtained in unaided and aided conditions.

Results For both children and adults, detection of nonsense words increased significantly as hearing thresholds improved. Spectral COG for /ʃ/ was unaffected by hearing loss in both listening conditions, whereas the spectral COG for /s/ significantly decreased as high-frequency hearing loss increased. The distance in spectral COG between /s/ and /ʃ/ decreased significantly with increasing hearing level. COG distance significantly predicted nonsense-word detection in children but not in adults.

Conclusions At least one aspect of speech production (voiceless sibilants) is measurably affected by high-frequency hearing loss and is related to speech perception in children. Speech production did not predict speech perception in adults, suggesting a more complex relationship between auditory feedback and feedforward mechanisms with age. Even so, these results suggest that this vocal biomarker may be useful for identifying the presence of high-frequency hearing loss in adults and children and for predicting the impact of hearing loss in children.

Acknowledgments
This study was funded by a grant from the Oticon Foundation, awarded to the first author. The authors would like to thank Drs. Elizabeth Stewart, Ashley Wright, and Jacelyn Olsen for their help with data collection.
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