Cochlear implants

Cochlear implants (CIs) are the most successful prosthetic sensory device that has been invented. Children born with hearing loss can now, when identified early in life, go on to successfully develop hearing and speech abilities relatively on par with normal hearing individuals. To date, there are over 324,000 CI users worldwide.

Cochlear implant users do not receive auditory signals that exactly match what a normal listener does, however, but are limited to a subset of frequency channels. In normal hearing individuals, degraded auditory signals leads to an increased importance of visual speech, or lip reading. This phenomenon is one that most people have encountered. When you’re in a quiet library, seeing someone’s mouth move while they’re talking is not all that helpful. When you move to a loud party, however, seeing someone’s mouth moving while they are talking can make it much easier to ‘hear’ them. One line of research in our lab explores this ability in CI users by pursuing the following questions:

  1. How do cochlear implant users make use of visual cues to help them perceive speech?
  2. Does the development of audiovisual speech perception differ between cochlear implant users and normal hearing individuals?

Our lab is also interested in detecting what sensory abilities contribute to what the clinical outcome of cochlear implantation is. Preliminary investigations suggests that an individual’s visual abilities, or the preservation of even minimal hearing in one ear may influence CI outcomes. Our lab’s most pressing questions here relate to how individuals with CIs are able to use their visual cues to enhance their hearing, thus becoming more proficient CI users. Specifically:

  1. Do visual abilities that influence multisensory integration, such as temporal and spatial abilities, also influence or predict cochlear implant outcomes?
  2. Are we able to train individuals on relevant sensory abilities aside from hearing to improve cochlear implant outcomes?

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