The deterioration of hearing with age: frequency selectivity, the critical ratio, the audiogram, and speech threshold

J Acoust Soc Am. 1982 Dec;72(6):1788-803. doi: 10.1121/1.388652.


The frequency selectivity of the auditory system was measured by masking a sinusoidal signal (0.5, 2.0, or 4.0 kHz) or a filtered-speech signal with a wideband noise having a notch, or stopband, centered on the signal. As the notch was widened performance improved for both types of signal but the rate of improvement decreased as the age of the 16 listeners increased from 23 to 75 years, indicating a loss in frequency selectivity with age. Auditory filter shapes derived from the tone-in-noise data show (a) that the passband of the filter broadens progressively with age, and (b) that the dynamic range of the filter ages like the audiogram. That is, the range changes little with age before 55, but beyond this point there is an accelerating rate of loss. The speech experiment shows comparable but smaller effects. The filter-width measurements show that the critical ratio is a poor estimator of frequency selectivity because it confounds the tuning of the system with the efficiency of the signal-detection and speech-processing mechanisms that follow the filter. An alternative, one-point measure of frequency selectivity, which is both sensitive and reliable, is developed via the filter-shape model of masking.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aging*
  • Audiometry
  • Auditory Threshold
  • Hearing
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Perceptual Masking
  • Speech Perception*