Age affects responses on the Speech, Spatial, and Qualities of Hearing Scale (SSQ) by adults with minimal audiometric loss

J Am Acad Audiol. 2012 Feb;23(2):81-91; quiz 139-40. doi: 10.3766/jaaa.23.2.2.


Background: Age-related declines in auditory and cognitive processing may contribute to the difficulties with listening in noise that are often reported by older adults. Such difficulties are reported even by those who have relatively good audiograms that could be considered "normal" for their age (ISO 7029-2000 [ISO, 2000]). The Speech, Spatial, and Qualities of Hearing Scale (SSQ; Gatehouse and Noble, 2004) is a questionnaire developed to measure a listener's self-reported ability to hear in a variety of everyday situations, such as those that are challenging for older adults, and it can provide insights into the possible contributions of auditory and cognitive factors to their listening difficulties. The SSQ has been shown to be a sensitive and reliable questionnaire to detect benefits associated with the use of different hearing technologies and potentially other forms of intervention. Establishing how age-matched listeners with audiograms "normal" for their age rate the items on the SSQ could enable an extension of its use in audiological assessment and in setting rehabilitative goals.

Purpose: The main purpose of this study was to investigate how younger and older adults who passed audiometric screening and who had thresholds considered to be "normal" for their age responded on the SSQ. It was also of interest to compare these results to those reported previously for older listeners with hearing loss in an attempt to tease out the relative effects of age and hearing loss.

Study sample: The SSQ was administered to 48 younger (mean age = 19 yr; SD = 1.0) and 48 older (mean age = 70 yr, SD = 4.1) adults with clinically normal audiometric thresholds below 4 kHz. The younger adults were recruited through an introductory psychology course, and the older adults were volunteers from the local community.

Data collection and analysis: Both age groups completed the SSQ. The differences between the groups were analyzed. Correlations were used to compare the pattern of results across items for the two age groups in the present study and to assess the relationship between SSQ scores and objective measures of hearing. Comparisons were also made to published results for older adults with hearing loss.

Results: The pattern of reported difficulty across items was similar for both age groups, but younger adults had significantly higher scores than older adults on 42 of the 46 items. On average, younger adults scored 8.8 (SD = 0.6) out of 10 and older adults scored 7.7 (SD = 1.2) out of 10. By comparison, scores of 5.5 (SD = 1.9) have been reported for older adults (mean age = 71 yr, SD = 8.1) with moderate hearing loss (Gatehouse and Noble, 2004).

Conclusions: By establishing the best scores that could reasonably be expected from younger and older adults with "normal" hearing thresholds, these results provide clinicians with information that should assist them in setting realistic targets for interventions for adults of different ages.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Auditory Perceptual Disorders / diagnosis
  • Auditory Perceptual Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Auditory Threshold
  • Cognition / physiology
  • Female
  • Hearing / physiology*
  • Hearing Loss / diagnosis
  • Hearing Loss / physiopathology*
  • Hearing Tests
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Noise
  • Sound Localization / physiology
  • Speech Perception*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult