A postlingually implanted adult typically develops hearing with an intact auditory system, followed by periods of deafness (or near deafness) and adaptation to the implant. For an early implanted child whose brain is highly plastic, the auditory system matures with consistent input from a cochlear implant. It is likely that the auditory system of early implanted cochlear implant users is fundamentally different than postlingually implanted adults. The purpose of this study is to compare the basic psychophysical capabilities and limitations of these two populations on a spectral resolution task to determine potential effects of early deprivation and plasticity.
Performance on a spectral resolution task (Spectral-temporally Modulated Ripple Test [SMRT]) was measured for 20 bilaterally implanted, prelingually deafened children (between 5 and 13 years of age) and 20 hearing children within the same age range. Additionally, 15 bilaterally implanted, postlingually deafened adults, and 10 hearing adults were tested on the same task. Cochlear implant users (adults and children) were tested bilaterally, and with each ear alone. Hearing listeners (adults and children) were tested with the unprocessed SMRT and with a vocoded version that simulates an 8-channel cochlear implant.
For children with normal hearing, a positive correlation was found between age and SMRT score for both the unprocessed and vocoded versions. Older hearing children performed similarly to hearing adults in both the unprocessed and vocoded test conditions. However, for children with cochlear implants, no significant relationship was found between SMRT score and chronological age, age at implantation, or years of implant experience. Performance by children with cochlear implants was poorer than performance by cochlear implanted adults. It was also found that children implanted sequentially tended to have better scores with the first implant compared with the second implant. This difference was not observed for adults. An additional finding was that SMRT score was negatively correlated with age for adults with implants.
Results from this study suggest that basic psychophysical capabilities of early implanted children and postlingually implanted adults differ when assessed in the sound field using their personal implant processors. Because spectral resolution does not improve with age for early implanted children, it seems likely that the sparse representation of the signal provided by a cochlear implant limits spectral resolution development. These results are supported by the finding that postlingually implanted adults, whose auditory systems matured before the onset of hearing loss, perform significantly better than early implanted children on the spectral resolution test.
1Department of Otolaryngology, New York University School of Medicine, New York, New York, USA; and 2USC Tina and Rick Caruso Department of Otolaryngology, Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California, USA.
The authors have no conflicts of interest to disclose.
Received October 21, 2016; accepted May 3, 2017.
Address for correspondence: David M. Landsberger, Department of Otolaryngology, New York University School of Medicine, 550 1st Avenue, STE NBV 5E5, New York, NY 10016, USA. E-mail: David.Landsberger@nyumc.org