Maturation of Mechanical Impedance of the Skin-Covered Skull: Implications for Soft Band Bone-Anchored Hearing Systems Fitted in Infants and Young Children

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Abstract

Objectives:

Little is known about the maturational changes in the mechanical properties of the skull and how they might contribute to infant–adult differences in bone conduction hearing sensitivity. The objective of this study was to investigate the mechanical impedance of the skin-covered skull for different skull positions and contact forces for groups of infants, young children, and adults. These findings provide a better understanding of how changes in mechanical impedance might contribute to developmental changes in bone conduction hearing, and might provide insight into how fitting and output verification protocols for bone-anchored hearing systems (BAHS) could be adapted for infants and young children.

Design:

Seventy-seven individuals participated in the study, including 63 infants and children (ages 1 month to 7 years) and 11 adults. Mechanical impedance magnitude for the forehead and temporal bone was collected for contact forces of 2, 4, and 5.4 N using an impedance head, a BAHS transducer, and a specially designed holding device. Mechanical impedance magnitude was determined across frequency using a stepped sine sweep from 100 to 10,000 Hz, and divided into low- and high-frequency sets for analysis.

Results:

Mechanical impedance magnitude was lowest for the youngest infants and increased throughout maturation in the low frequencies. For high frequencies, the youngest infants had the highest impedance, but only for a temporal bone placement. Impedance increased with increasing contact force for low frequencies for each age group and for both skull positions. The effect of placement was significant for high frequencies for each contact force and for each age group, except for the youngest infants.

Conclusions:

Our findings show that mechanical impedance properties change systematically up to 7 years old. The significant age-related differences in mechanical impedance suggest that infant–adult differences in bone conduction thresholds may be related, at least in part, to properties of the immature skull and overlying skin and tissues. These results have important implications for fitting the soft band BAHS on infants and young children. For example, verification of output force form a BAHS on a coupler designed with adult values may not be appropriate for infants. This may also hold true for transducer calibration when assessing bone conduction hearing thresholds in infants for different skull locations. The results have two additional clinical implications for fitting soft band BAHSs. First, parents should be counseled to maintain sufficient and consistent tightness so that the output from the BAHS does not change as the child moves around during everyday activities. Second, placement of a BAHS on the forehead versus the temporal bone results in changes in mechanical impedance which may contribute to a decrease in signal level at the cochlea as it has been previously demonstrated that bone conduction thresholds are poorer at the forehead compared with a temporal placement.

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