Temporal processing is the ability for the brain to encode temporal cues of speech, and use that information to understand it in challenging listening environments. As people age, this temporal processing starts to degrade. Older adults can have normal thresholds on the audiogram, but still struggle hearing speech when there is a lot of background noise.

Currently, the only remediation available for people that struggle in these complex listening environments is amplification, or hearing aids. While hearing aids can make up for reduced audibility of the signal, they cannot account for the reduced temporal processing that starts to occur with aging and hearing loss- this can lead to a reduced satisfaction rate with hearing aids, and overall, reduce the amount of time older adults are wearing them- and hearing aids aren’t even an option for older adults with normal hearing! There is currently a gap in knowledge between this degraded temporal processing, and the development of training programs to help remedy this issue.

The training protocols that we currently have developed involve long psychoacoustic tasks that are often time consuming and fatiguing (who wants to sit in a soundproof booth for an hour and listen to beeps?). To develop a training program that can be fun, entertaining, and enjoyable for people that serves as a supplement to amplification can greatly improve satisfaction with hearing aids and/or amplification.

Who wants to sit in a soundproof booth for an hour and listen to beeps?

That being said, podcasts have become a very popular way to access pre-recorded speech materials. They are free, entertaining, and an excellent way to keep oneself occupied on commutes or at work. When listening, it is possible to compress the podcast, or speed it up (also known as “podfasting”). Some people do this as a way to save time, and make their listening more efficient. For example, a listener can put their material on “2x” speed, and finish a podcast session in half the time that it would take when listening at a normal speed.

I want to know, are people training themselves and improving (or maintaining) their temporal processing abilities simply by regularly “podfasting”? Is there a way to help people with the issue of reduced temporal processing and is fun, free, and easy to do on a daily basis?

As the aging population grows larger by the year, it is important to develop some kind of technique to help combat the slowed temporal processing that occurs as people get older- and overall increase quality of life.

Alyson Schapira, B.A., is a doctoral student in clinical audiology at the University of Maryland, College Park. She received her Bachelor or Arts in Hearing in Speech Sciences from University of Maryland, with a double major in Spanish Literature and Culture. She is interested in working with cochlear implant users and Spanish speaking people. She is a recipient of the MCM grant for student research excellence.

Expenses related to this research were funded by the MCM Fund for Student Research Excellence. This award is designed to support independent student research projects, and is made possible by an anonymous donation to the Department and by other donations by faculty, alumni, and friends. Please consider donating to the fund through the following link: https://giving.umd.edu/giving/Fund.php?name=mcm-fund-for-student-research-excellence-in-hearing-and-speech-sciences