Unilateral hearing loss increases the risk of academic and behavioral challenges for school-aged children. Previous research suggests that remote microphone (RM) systems offer the most consistent benefits for children with unilateral hearing loss in classroom environments relative to other nonsurgical interventions. However, generalizability of previous laboratory work is limited because of the specific listening situations evaluated, which often included speech and noise signals originating from the side. In addition, early studies focused on speech recognition tasks requiring limited cognitive engagement. However, those laboratory conditions do not reflect characteristics of contemporary classrooms, which are cognitively demanding and typically include multiple talkers of interest in relatively diffuse background noise. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the potential effects of rerouting amplification systems, specifically a RM system and a contralateral routing of signal (CROS) system, on speech recognition and comprehension of school-age children in a laboratory environment designed to emulate the dynamic characteristics of contemporary classrooms. It was expected that listeners would benefit from the CROS system when the head shadow limits audibility (e.g., monaural indirect listening). It was also expected that listeners would benefit from the RM system only when the RM was near the talker of interest.
Twenty-one children (10 to 14 years, M = 11.86) with normal hearing participated in laboratory tests of speech recognition and comprehension. Unilateral hearing loss was simulated by presenting speech-shaped masking noise to one ear via an insert earphone. Speech stimuli were presented from 1 of 4 loudspeakers located at either 0°, +45°, −90°, and −135° or 0°, −45°, +90°, and +135°. Cafeteria noise was presented from separate loudspeakers surrounding the listener. Participants repeated sentences (sentence recognition) and also answered questions after listening to an unfamiliar story (comprehension). They were tested unaided, with a RM system (microphone near the front loudspeaker), and with a CROS system (ear-level microphone on the ear with simulated hearing loss).
Relative to unaided listening, both rerouting systems reduced sentence recognition performance for most signals originating near the ear with normal hearing (monaural direct loudspeakers). Only the RM system improved speech recognition for midline signals, which were near the RM. Only the CROS system significantly improved speech recognition for signals originating near the ear with simulated hearing loss (monaural indirect loudspeakers). Although the benefits were generally small (approximately 6.5 percentage points), the CROS system also improved comprehension scores, which reflect overall listening across all four loudspeakers. Conversely, the RM system did not improve comprehension scores relative to unaided listening.
Benefits of the CROS system in this study were small, specific to situations where speech is directed toward the ear with hearing loss, and relative only to a RM system utilizing one microphone. Although future study is warranted to evaluate the generalizability of the findings, the data demonstrate both CROS and RM systems are nonsurgical interventions that have the potential to improve speech recognition and comprehension for children with limited useable unilateral hearing in dynamic, noisy classroom situations.