Perception of speech in younger and older adults


How is it that we are aware of our own speech relative to others? We take our capability for language perception and production for granted each day while we communicate with those around us, sing melodies to songs, and think to ourselves. Older adults report having difficulty in perceiving speech, such as understanding what they are saying themselves or understanding others around them. Monitoring of speech efficiency is important to the aging population because communication is key to the safety, well-being and life satisfaction of these individuals.


The purpose of this research project was to determine whether difficulty perceiving self-generated speech in the older population is related to misinterpreting motor commands or is related to a lack of auditory integration used to generate speech. In a lab setting, both young adults and older adults were shown a word on a screen and were asked to say the word into a microphone after the word had disappeared. The words were then played back with different lengths of delays and at different pitches to see what effect they would have on speech fluency. By measuring the participant’s sensitivity to these changes, which alter the perceived ownership of heard speech, further insight into how the young and aging brain interprets self-generated speech verses passively heard speech could be attained.

Summary of findings

With a small sample size of older adults assessed in the study, the findings suggested that older adults perceive the onset of speech differently than younger people. Further research is needed to compare a larger sample size of older adults to younger adults in order to assess what additional factors, like the reliance on motor versus auditory cues, may change with the aging process. Based on future research, those individuals affected could then be offered rehabilitation aimed at strengthening motor muscles involved in their speech or receive assistance to develop their ability to detect auditory cues.

Project members: 
Undergraduate Fellow
Faculty Supervisor
Last updated: June 30, 2016