Speech Detection in Noise for Young Bilaterally Implanted Children: Is There Evidence of Binaural Benefit Over the Shadowed Ear Alone?

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Abstract

Objectives:

To measure binaural benefit over the shadowed ear alone for young bilateral cochlear implant (CI) users. It was hypothesized that children who received bilateral CIs at a young age (<4 years), and had significant bilateral experience, would demonstrate lower detection thresholds for speech sounds in background noise in the bilateral CI over the unilateral CI condition when the added CI was ipsilateral to the noise source.

Design:

Children receiving bilateral CIs at the Eye and Ear Hospital Clinic in Melbourne were invited to participate in a wider research project evaluating outcomes; those participating in the wider project who were bilaterally implanted by 4 years and were approximately 2 years postoperative were included in the present study. For 20 participants, detection signal to noise ratios (SNRs) were measured for speech presented from in front and noise from 90° in at least 3 of 4 device/noise conditions, namely left CI/noise right and right CI/noise left, plus bilateral CIs/noise right and bilateral CIs/noise left.

Results:

As some participants could only complete testing in 3 conditions within the 1 test block, the unilateral versus bilateral comparison was performed for 1 CI (i.e., 1 noise direction) for 15 participants and for both CIs (i.e., noise left and noise right) for 5 participants. Group analysis indicated no significant difference in detection SNR between the unilateral and bilateral CI conditions when adding the left CI or right CI (for the overall group) or when adding the first or second CI (for the 15 participants with sequential bilateral CIs). Separate analyses indicated no significant difference in detection SNR between the unilateral and bilateral CI conditions for the majority of individuals; this occurred irrespective of whether the analysis indicated that the CI added in the bilateral condition was poorer-performing, better-performing, or not significantly different compared with the other CI. Four individuals demonstrated a significant improvement in the bilateral condition when the CI added in the bilateral condition was a better-performing (n = 1), poorer-performing (n = 2), or not significantly different CI (n = 1). There was no relationship between the detection SNR difference between each CI and the detection SNR difference between the unilateral and bilateral conditions.

Conclusions:

The hypothesis of a lower detection SNR in the bilateral condition was not supported by the group results or by the results for the majority of individuals. For the 4 participants who did demonstrate benefit over the shadowed ear alone, that benefit cannot be separated from the potential benefit gained as a result of the CI added in the bilateral condition being the better-performing CI for 1 of the 4. Variation in outcomes could not be related to demographic factors for this group, which was relatively homogeneous for age at bilateral CI and experience; an older, more experienced group may demonstrate greater binaural benefit in these conditions. These results can be used during counseling for families regarding postoperative expectations for young children, especially in the first 2 years.

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