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Head Movements Allow Listeners Bilaterally Implanted With Cochlear Implants to Resolve Front-Back Confusions

Pastore, M. Torben; Natale, Sarah J.; Yost, William A.; Dorman, Michael F.

doi: 10.1097/AUD.0000000000000581
Research Articles

Objectives: We report on the ability of patients fit with bilateral cochlear implants (CIs) to distinguish the front-back location of sound sources both with and without head movements. At issue was (i) whether CI patients are more prone to front-back confusions than normal hearing listeners for wideband, high-frequency stimuli; and (ii) if CI patients can utilize dynamic binaural difference cues, in tandem with their own head rotation, to resolve these front-back confusions. Front-back confusions offer a binary metric to gain insight into CI patients’ ability to localize sound sources under dynamic conditions not generally measured in laboratory settings where both the sound source and patient are static.

Design: Three-second duration Gaussian noise samples were bandpass filtered to 2 to 8 kHz and presented from one of six loudspeaker locations located 60° apart, surrounding the listener. Perceived sound source localization for seven listeners bilaterally implanted with CIs, was tested under conditions where the patient faced forward and did not move their head and under conditions where they were encouraged to moderately rotate their head. The same conditions were repeated for 5 of the patients with one implant turned off (the implant at the better ear remained on). A control group of normal hearing listeners was also tested for a baseline of comparison.

Results: All seven CI patients demonstrated a high rate of front-back confusions when their head was stationary (41.9%). The proportion of front-back confusions was reduced to 6.7% when these patients were allowed to rotate their head within a range of approximately ± 30°. When only one implant was turned on, listeners’ localization acuity suffered greatly. In these conditions, head movement or the lack thereof made little difference to listeners’ performance.

Conclusions: Bilateral implantation can offer CI listeners the ability to track dynamic auditory spatial difference cues and compare these changes to changes in their own head position, resulting in a reduced rate of front-back confusions. This suggests that, for these patients, estimates of auditory acuity based solely on static laboratory settings may underestimate their real-world localization abilities.

Department of Speech and Hearing Science, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ.

Received October 13, 2017; accepted February 14, 2018.

Address for correspondence: M. Torben Pastore, PhD, Department of Speech and Hearing Science, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ 85287, USA. Email: Torben.Pastore@asu.edu.

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