Sensitivity to repetitions in sound amplitude and frequency is crucial for sound perception. As with other aspects of sound processing, sensitivity to such patterns may change with age, and may help explain some age-related changes in hearing such as segregating speech from background sound. We recorded magnetoencephalography to characterize differences in the processing of sound patterns between younger and older adults. We presented tone sequences that either contained a pattern (made of a repeated set of tones) or did not contain a pattern. We show that auditory cortex in older, compared to younger, adults is hyperresponsive to sound onsets, but that sustained neural activity in auditory cortex, indexing the processing of a sound pattern, is reduced. Hence, the sensitivity of neural populations in auditory cortex fundamentally differs between younger and older individuals, overresponding to sound onsets, while underresponding to patterns in sounds. This may help to explain some age-related changes in hearing such as increased sensitivity to distracting sounds and difficulties tracking speech in the presence of other sound.
bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience