Single-sided deafness cochlear-implant (SSD-CI) listeners and bilateral cochlear-implant (BI-CI) listeners gain near-normal levels of head-shadow benefit but limited binaural benefits. One possible reason for these limited binaural benefits is that cochlear places of stimulation tend to be mismatched between the ears. SSD-CI and BI-CI patients might benefit from a binaural fitting that reallocates frequencies to reduce interaural place mismatch. However, this approach could reduce monaural speech recognition and head-shadow benefit by excluding low- or high-frequency information from one ear. This study examined how much frequency information can be excluded from a CI signal in the poorer-hearing ear without reducing head-shadow benefits and how these outcomes are influenced by interaural asymmetry in monaural speech recognition.
Speech-recognition thresholds for sentences in speech-shaped noise were measured for 6 adult SSD-CI listeners, 12 BI-CI listeners, and 9 normal-hearing listeners presented with vocoder simulations. Stimuli were presented using nonindividualized in-the-ear or behind-the-ear head-related impulse-response simulations with speech presented from a 70° azimuth (poorer-hearing side) and noise from 70° (better-hearing side), thereby yielding a better signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) at the poorer-hearing ear. Head-shadow benefit was computed as the improvement in bilateral speech-recognition thresholds gained from enabling the CI in the poorer-hearing, better-SNR ear. High- or low-pass filtering was systematically applied to the head-related impulse-response–filtered stimuli presented to the poorer-hearing ear. For the SSD-CI listeners and SSD-vocoder simulations, only high-pass filtering was applied, because the CI frequency allocation would never need to be adjusted downward to frequency-match the ears. For the BI-CI listeners and BI-vocoder simulations, both low and high pass filtering were applied. The normal-hearing listeners were tested with two levels of performance to examine the effect of interaural asymmetry in monaural speech recognition (vocoder synthesis-filter slopes: 5 or 20 dB/octave).
Mean head-shadow benefit was smaller for the SSD-CI listeners (~7 dB) than for the BI-CI listeners (~14 dB). For SSD-CI listeners, frequencies <1236 Hz could be excluded; for BI-CI listeners, frequencies <886 or >3814 Hz could be excluded from the poorer-hearing ear without reducing head-shadow benefit. Bilateral performance showed greater immunity to filtering than monaural performance, with gradual changes in performance as a function of filter cutoff. Real and vocoder-simulated CI users with larger interaural asymmetry in monaural performance had less head-shadow benefit.
The “exclusion frequency” ranges that could be removed without diminishing head-shadow benefit are interpreted in terms of low importance in the speech intelligibility index and a small head-shadow magnitude at low frequencies. Although groups and individuals with greater performance asymmetry gained less head-shadow benefit, the magnitudes of these factors did not predict the exclusion frequency range. Overall, these data suggest that for many SSD-CI and BI-CI listeners, the frequency allocation for the poorer-ear CI can be shifted substantially without sacrificing head-shadow benefit, at least for energetic maskers. Considering the two ears together as a single system may allow greater flexibility in discarding redundant frequency content from a CI in one ear when considering bilateral programming solutions aimed at reducing interaural frequency mismatch.