Aging affects the balance of neural entrainment and top-down neural modulation in the listening brain

Nat Commun. 2017 Jun 27:8:15801. doi: 10.1038/ncomms15801.


Healthy aging is accompanied by listening difficulties, including decreased speech comprehension, that stem from an ill-understood combination of sensory and cognitive changes. Here, we use electroencephalography to demonstrate that auditory neural oscillations of older adults entrain less firmly and less flexibly to speech-paced (∼3 Hz) rhythms than younger adults' during attentive listening. These neural entrainment effects are distinct in magnitude and origin from the neural response to sound per se. Non-entrained parieto-occipital alpha (8-12 Hz) oscillations are enhanced in young adults, but suppressed in older participants, during attentive listening. Entrained neural phase and task-induced alpha amplitude exert opposite, complementary effects on listening performance: higher alpha amplitude is associated with reduced entrainment-driven behavioural performance modulation. Thus, alpha amplitude as a task-driven, neuro-modulatory signal can counteract the behavioural corollaries of neural entrainment. Balancing these two neural strategies may present new paths for intervention in age-related listening difficulties.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Auditory Perception*
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Electroencephalography
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Young Adult