The purpose of the current investigation was to compare speech recognition in noise for bilateral and unilateral modes within postlingually deafened, adult bilateral cochlear implant recipients. In addition, it was of interest to evaluate the time course of the bilateral speech-recognition advantage and the effect of changing signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) on the magnitude of the bilateral advantage.
In the first experiment, 16 postlingually deafened adults who were bilaterally implanted with the MED-EL C40+ cochlear device were evaluated in unilateral left, unilateral right, and bilateral conditions 4 to 7 mo after activation. Speech recognition in the presence of five spatially separated, uncorrelated noise sources was evaluated using both a single fixed SNR of +10 dB and an adaptive-SNR method. In a follow-up study, a subset of 10 participants was re-evaluated using an identical fixed-SNR method 12 to 17 mo after activation to examine the time course of speech-recognition performance in both unilateral and bilateral modes at a single SNR. A third study was performed with a subset of six participants to examine performance over a range of SNRs. In this study, speech recognition was measured 12 to 17 mo after activation in quiet and at +5, +10, +15, and +20 dB SNRs using the same five uncorrelated noise sources.
The speech-recognition data revealed a significant bilateral advantage of 3.3 dB using the adaptive-SNR method. A significant bilateral advantage of 9% was also measured using a fixed +10 dB SNR. Results from the second study revealed that experience resulted in a significant (11 to 20%) increase in speech-recognition-in-noise performance for both unilateral and bilateral modes; however, the magnitude of the bilateral advantage was not affected by experience. Results from the third study revealed the largest bilateral advantage at the poorest SNR evaluated. In addition, performance in quiet was significantly better than that measured in the presence of noise, even at the +20 dB SNR.
The results of these experiments support a small but significant bilateral speech-recognition-in-noise advantage for cochlear implant recipients in an environment with multiple noise sources. This advantage is presumed to be attributable to the combined effects of binaural squelch and diotic summation. Although experience generally improved speech-recognition-in-noise performance in both unilateral and bilateral modes, a consistent bilateral advantage (approximately 10%) was measured at 4 to 7 mo and at 12 to 17 mo postactivation.