Advances in auditory prostheses

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Abstract

Purpose of review

Auditory prostheses use electric currents on multiple electrodes to stimulate auditory neurons and recreate auditory sensations in deaf people. Cochlear implants have restored hearing in more than 200 000 deaf adults and children to a level that allows most to understand speech. Here we review the reasons underlying these results and describe new directions in restoring hearing to additional patient populations and the design of new devices.

Recent findings

From their early development about 50 years ago, cochlear implants have been well received and beneficial to people who had lost their hearing. Although those first implants did not allow high levels of speech understanding, they provided auditory information that worked synergistically with lip reading to improve communication. Present day cochlear implants provide excellent speech understanding in children and in postlingually deafened adults. Research is focused on improved signal processing and new electrode designs. Electric stimulation of the auditory brainstem can also produce excellent hearing in some children and adults.

Summary

Auditory prostheses, both at the level of the sensory nerve and at the brainstem, can restore patterns of neural activation that are sufficient for high levels of speech understanding. These prostheses are not only clinically successful but also important tools for understanding sensory processing in the brain.

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