Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience
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Understanding speech in the presence of background sound can be challenging for older adults. Speech comprehension in noise appears to depend on working memory and executive-control processes (e.g., Heald and Nusbaum, 2014), and their augmentation through training may have rehabilitative potential for age-related hearing loss. We examined the efficacy of adaptive working-memory training (Cogmed; Klingberg et al., 2002) in 24 older adults, assessing generalization to other working-memory tasks (near-transfer) and to other cognitive domains (far-transfer) using a cognitive test battery, including the Reading Span test, sensitive to working memory (e.g., Daneman and Carpenter, 1980). We also assessed far transfer to speech-in-noise performance, including a closed-set sentence task (Kidd et al., 2008). To examine the effect of cognitive training on benefit obtained from semantic context, we also assessed transfer to open-set sentences; half were semantically coherent (high-context) and half were semantically anomalous (low-context). Subjects completed 25 sessions (0.5-1 h each; 5 sessions/week) of both adaptive working memory training and placebo training over 10 weeks in a crossover design. Subjects' scores on the adaptive working-memory training tasks improved as a result of training. However, training did not transfer to other working memory tasks, nor to tasks recruiting other cognitive domains. We did not observe any training-related improvement in speech-in-noise performance. Measures of working memory correlated with the intelligibility of low-context, but not high-context, sentences, suggesting that sentence context may reduce the load on working memory. The Reading Span test significantly correlated only with a test of visual episodic memory, suggesting that the Reading Span test is not a pure-test of working memory, as is commonly assumed.