Background: Cortical entrainment to speech correlates with speech intelligibility and attention to a speech stream in noisy environments. However, there is a lack of data on whether cortical entrainment can help in evaluating hearing aid fittings for subjects with mild to moderate hearing loss. One particular problem that may arise is that hearing aids may alter the speech stimulus during (pre-)processing steps, which might alter cortical entrainment to the speech. Here, the effect of hearing aid processing on cortical entrainment to running speech in hearing impaired subjects was investigated.
Methodology: Seventeen native English-speaking subjects with mild-to-moderate hearing loss participated in the study. Hearing function and hearing aid fitting were evaluated using standard clinical procedures. Participants then listened to a 25-minute audiobook under aided and unaided conditions at 70 dB A sound pressure level (SPL) in quiet conditions. EEG data were collected using a 32-channel system. Cortical entrainment to speech was evaluated using decoders reconstructing the speech envelope from the EEG data. Null decoders, obtained from EEG and the time-reversed speech envelope, were used to assess the chance level reconstructions. Entrainment in the delta- (1-4 Hz) and theta- (4-8 Hz) band, as well as wideband (1-20 Hz) EEG data was investigated.
Results: Significant cortical responses could be detected for all but one subject in all three frequency bands under both aided and unaided conditions. However, no significant differences could be found between the two conditions in the number of responses detected, nor in the strength of cortical entrainment. The results show that the relatively small change in speech input provided by the hearing aid was not sufficient to elicit a detectable change in cortical entrainment.
Conclusion: For subjects with mild to moderate hearing loss, cortical entrainment to speech in quiet at an audible level is not affected by hearing aids. These results clear the pathway for exploring the potential to use cortical entrainment to running speech for evaluating hearing aid fitting at lower speech intensities (which could be inaudible when unaided), or using speech in noise conditions.