Diagnosis of hearing loss and prescription of amplification for infants and young children require accurate estimates of ear- and frequency-specific behavioral thresholds based on auditory brainstem response (ABR) measurements. Although the overall relationship between ABR and behavioral thresholds has been demonstrated, the agreement is imperfect, and the accuracy of predictions of behavioral threshold based on ABR may depend on degree of hearing loss. Behavioral thresholds are lower than ABR thresholds, at least in part due to differences in calibration interacting with the effects of temporal integration, which are manifest in behavioral measurements but not ABR measurements and depend on behavioral threshold. Listeners with sensory hearing loss exhibit reduced or absent temporal integration, which could impact the relationship between ABR and behavioral thresholds as degree of hearing loss increases. The present study evaluated the relationship between ABR and behavioral thresholds in infants and children over a range of hearing thresholds, and tested an approach for adjusting the correction factor based on degree of hearing loss as estimated by ABR measurements.
A retrospective review of clinical records was completed for 309 ears of 177 children with hearing thresholds ranging from normal to profound hearing loss and for whom both ABR and behavioral thresholds were available. Children were required to have the same middle ear status at both evaluations. The relationship between ABR and behavioral thresholds was examined. Factors that potentially could affect the relationship between ABR and behavioral thresholds were analyzed, including degree of hearing loss observed on the ABR, behavioral test method (visual reinforcement, conditioned play, or conventional audiometry), the length of time between ABR and behavioral assessments, and clinician-reported reliability of the behavioral assessment. Predictive accuracy of a correction factor based on the difference between ABR and behavioral thresholds as a function of ABR threshold was compared to the predictive accuracy achieved by two other correction approaches in current clinical use.
As expected, ABR threshold was a significant predictor of behavioral threshold. The agreement between ABR and behavioral thresholds varied as a function of degree of hearing loss. The test method, length of time between assessments, and reported reliability of the behavioral test results were not related to the differences between ABR and behavioral thresholds. A correction factor based on the linear relationship between the differences in ABR and behavioral thresholds as a function of ABR threshold resulted in more accurately predicted behavioral thresholds than other correction factors in clinical use.
ABR is a valid predictor of behavioral threshold in infants and children. A correction factor that accounts for the effect of degree of hearing loss on the differences between ABR and behavioral thresholds resulted in more accurate predictions of behavioral thresholds than methods that used a constant correction factor regardless of degree of hearing loss. These results are consistent with predictions based on previous research on temporal integration for listeners with hearing loss.