To evaluate sound localization acuity in a group of children who received bilateral (BI) cochlear implants in sequential procedures and to determine the extent to which BI auditory experience affects sound localization acuity. In addition, to investigate the extent to which a hearing aid in the nonimplanted ear can also provide benefits on this task.
Two groups of children participated, 13 with BI cochlear implants (cochlear implant + cochlear implant), ranging in age from 3 to 16 yrs, and six with a hearing aid in the nonimplanted ear (cochlear implant + hearing aid), ages 4 to 14 yrs. Testing was conducted in large sound-treated booths with loudspeakers positioned on a horizontal arc with a radius of 1.5 m. Stimuli were spondaic words recorded with a male voice. Stimulus levels typically averaged 60 dB SPL and were randomly roved between 56 and 64 dB SPL (±4 dB rove); in a few instances, levels were held fixed (60 dB SPL). Testing was conducted by using a “listening game” platform via computerized interactive software, and the ability of each child to discriminate sounds presented to the right or left was measured for loudspeakers subtending various angular separations. Minimum audible angle thresholds were measured in the BI (cochlear implant + cochlear implant or cochlear implant + hearing aid) listening mode and under monaural conditions.
Approximately 70% (9/13) of children in the cochlear implant + cochlear implant group discriminated left/right for source separations of ≤20°, and, of those, 77% (7/9) performed better when listening bilaterally than with either cochlear implant alone. Several children were also able to perform the task when using a single cochlear implant, under some conditions. Minimum audible angle thresholds were better in the first cochlear implant than the second cochlear implant listening mode for nearly all (8/9) subjects. Repeated testing of a few individual subjects over a 2-yr period suggests that robust improvements in performance occurred with increased auditory experience. Children who wore hearing aids in the nonimplanted ear were at times also able to perform the task. Average group performance was worse than that of the children with BI cochlear implants when both ears were activated (cochlear implant + hearing aid versus cochlear implant + cochlear implant) but not significantly different when listening with a single cochlear implant.
Children with sequential BI cochlear implants represent a unique population of individuals who have undergone variable amounts of auditory deprivation in each ear. Our findings suggest that many but not all of these children perform better on measures of localization acuity with two cochlear implants compared with one and are better at the task than children using the cochlear implant + hearing aid. These results must be interpreted with caution, because benefits on other tasks as well as the long-term benefits of BI cochlear implants are yet to be fully understood. The factors that might contribute to such benefits must be carefully evaluated in large populations of children using a variety of measures.