Benefits of bilateral electrical stimulation with the nucleus cochlear implant in adults: 6-month postoperative results

Roland Laszig, Antje Aschendorff, Matthias Stecker, Joachim Müller-Deile, Steffen Maune, Norbert Dillier, Benno Weber, Matthias Hey, Klaus Begall, Thomas Lenarz, Rolf-D Battmer, Melanie Böhm, Thomas Steffens, Juergen Strutz, Thomas Linder, Rudolf Probst, John Allum, Martin Westhofen, Wolfgang Doering
Otology & Neurotology 2004, 25 (6): 958-68

OBJECTIVE: To evaluate the benefits of bilateral electrical stimulation for hearing-impaired adult subjects using the Nucleus 24 cochlear implant in a multicenter study, and to compare and quantify performance on speech perception measures in quiet and in noise and localization ability for unilateral and bilateral cochlear implant use.

DESIGN: : Repeated single subject measures were carried out for each subject, with each subject serving as their own control. Assessment of unilateral and bilateral listening conditions for performance on tests of speech comprehension and sound localization were performed. Speech comprehension measures were performed in quiet at 0 degree azimuth and in the presence of background noise simultaneously presented from the same speaker and spatially separated by 90 degrees, at S+45 degrees N45 degrees and at S-45 degrees N+45 degrees . Test materials included Freiburger monosyllabic words, Oldenburger sentences, and the Hochmair-Schulz-Moser sentences. Tests of localization were performed in the horizontal plane with 12 speaker locations 30 degrees apart using a shortened sentence stimulus from the Hochmair-Schulz-Moser sentences at two possible presentation levels of 55 and 70 dB sound pressure level for assessment of directionality. The binaural advantage provided by bilateral stimulation was calculated with respect to each ear separately, classified as either the better or poorer performing ear for each speech material in quiet and in noise test conditions. For localization of sound, the binaural advantage was compared with left and right ears separately. Paired comparisons for performance data in all conditions were carried out by considering measurements for each subject in different conditions as paired observations and applying the Student's t test to determine the statistical difference between the data sets.

SETTING: Tertiary referral centers with a cochlear implant program.

PATIENTS: Thirty-seven profoundly hearing-impaired adults were enrolled in the study, 22 simultaneously and 15 sequentially bilaterally implanted. All patients received the Nucleus 24 cochlear implant and used the Nucleus SPrint or ESPrit 3G speech processor, with the vast majority using the ACE speech coding strategy.

RESULTS: For spatially separated speech in noise conditions, an interaural performance advantage for the ear closest to the speech source (i.e., with a superior signal to noise ratio) compared with that for the ear closest to the noise source (i.e., with an inferior signal to noise ratio) is consistently demonstrated regardless of whether it is the better or poorer performing ear closest to the speech signal. This is referred to as a significant binaural head-shadow benefit, resulting in a mean improvement between -10 dB and -11.4 dB in the critical signal to noise ratio required for 50% speech comprehension for the Olden-burger sentences and a mean improvement in the maximum score of 42% to 55% for the ear closest to the speech signal over the ear farthest away for the Hochmair-Schulz-Moser sentences. Bilateral stimulation is always observed to provide a performance advantage over the unilateral listening condition for either ear when ipsilateral to the noise source. In addition, as demonstrated by approximately half the subjects tested in noise with the Hochmair-Schulz-Moser sentences, a performance advantage of bilateral stimulation may be observed over the better ear alone when positioned ipsilateral to the speech signal, which is referred to as a binaural squelch effect. On average, for the group, this resulted in a statistically significant improvement in speech comprehension scores of 8% in the bilateral listening condition compared with the scores for the better ear alone. Through assessment of comprehension of coincidental speech in noise and speech in quiet, a significant benefit of binaural redundancy was noted for the group for Oldenburger sentence scores in noise and in quiet compared with unilateral scores for either ear and for the Freiburger monosyllabic words in quiet in comparison with the better ear alone scores. Binaural stimulation also led to a significant improvement in localization ability over either monaural condition, with the root mean square degrees of error reduced by 38 degrees compared with that observed for unilateral stimulation.

CONCLUSION: Similar to what has been observed for bilateral acoustic stimulation in the past, bilateral electrical stimulation provides the foundation for the potential advantages of the head-shadow effect, providing a binaural head-shadow benefit and binaural auditory processing such as binaural redundancy and binaural squelch effects, all of which combine to lead to improved speech comprehension over unilateral listening conditions. The combination of improved speech comprehension and improved localization ability made available through bilateral electrical stimulation provides the necessary foundation to further assist the hearing-impaired listener to better cope with communication in the everyday listening situation both in noise and in quiet.

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