Working memory is used everyday by individuals of all ages. The authors of this study sought to compare the effect of background noise on the memory of either young adults or middle aged adults. They did this by recruiting 10 young adults aged 22-30 years old (mean of 25 yr) and 10 middle aged adults 46-60 years old (mean 55.1 yr). Each participant listened to lists composed of five pairs of words in quiet and in a 20-talker babble. When cued with one word they were required to write down the second word of that pair. As was hypothesised both groups did better at recalling the first and last items which is termed the primacy effect and the recency effect respectively. There was a significant main effect of age group [F(1,18) = 7.054, p = 0.016]. Interaction effects of background noise by age group [F(1,18) = 3.620, p = 0.073] was not statistically significant but the older age group did not perform as well in the presence of background noise. This was an interesting experiment whose results make sense and are biologically plausible. Long-term memory has been shown by various studies to deteriorate with age and it is no surprise that with the extra pressure of background noise performance in any age group would deteriorate. The clinical relevance of this paper is that the majority of our patients are middle aged adults who complain of difficulty understanding speech in noisy listening environments. Their audiological assessments are often normal in spite of this. This article suggests that this may be due to certain central processes including auditory processing which are not tested with our conventional techniques. Nonetheless a solution to this problem is difficult.

The effect of background babble on working memory in young and middle-aged adults.
Neidleman M, Wambacq I, Besing J, et al.
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Cheka R Spencer

MSc, AFHEA, FRCS (ORL-HNS), Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust, London, UK; Member of the ENT UK Global Health Committee. @ENTUKGlobal

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