Encouraging Speech Perception in Individuals with MCI through Improved Sound Environments

Elizabeth Mynatt
Clayton Feustel

Verbal communication tasks are an everyday occurrence for many. Activities ranging from socializing with friends or partners to listening to a presentation in an auditorium require the ability to easily and accurately perceive speech. The characteristics of the speech signal plays a significant role in an individual's ability to understand what is said and the built environment (i.e., the size and shape of the room, the materials, and background noise) all shape the quality of the sound. For example, a small room with concrete floors and glass walls will be highly reflective, creating reverberation times that are harmful for understanding speech. We know that individuals with mild cognitive impairment face unique challenges in speech perception that go beyond age-related hearing loss. We do not yet understand what characteristics of the sound environment are most salient for encouraging speech perception. With this project we hope to develop an understanding of these acoustic and architectural features and how they relate to speech perception in individuals with MCI to inform interventions that create environments supportive of speech tasks.


This project begins to address these questions in a therapeutic facility that was designed as a part of a larger project between Emory and Georgia Tech, the Cognitive Empowerment Center. The cognitive empowerment center occupies a first floor with a number of rooms with diverse architectural characteristics. By taking measurements for reverberation time, background noise, and other acoustic qualities of the space, we hope to relate the sound environment to the communication experiences of members as they go about everyday programming tasks. The cognitive empowerment center is additionally equipped with a sophisticated speaker system that allows dynamic control of sound sources and sound masking at an individual room level. This speaker system will serve as an integral part of creating a sound environment that responds to the needs of the members.

Beth Mynatt

We introduce a new area of interaction research, everyday computing, by focusing on scaling ubiquitous computing with respect to time. Our motivations for everyday computing stem from wanting to support the informal and unstructured activities typical of much of our everyday lives. Our goal is understanding the transformation of everyday life as computing is ubiquitously integrated into informal, daily activities and routines.