Improving Outcomes for People with Cochlear Implants
For many people who have severe hearing loss, cochlear implants can be life changing. Nebraska’s Michelle Hughes is improving lives by making this device even better.
Hughes, director of the university’s Cochlear Implant Research Lab, is exploring ways to enhance outcomes for people with cochlear implants. Her research aims to both obtain better results, especially for the implants’ youngest recipients, and simplify follow-up care through remote testing.
Federally approved in 1984, cochlear implants are an electronic device that bypasses damaged portions of the inner ear to directly stimulate the auditory nerve. The surgically implanted devices are programmed to achieve optimal sound quality. Today, recipients can be as young as age 1.
“An adult can tell you what they hear, but young children can’t,” said Hughes, associate professor of special education and communication disorders. “So we have to come up with other ways to make decisions about how to program the device for them.”
To reduce reliance on verbal feedback and improve accuracy, Hughes’ team is identifying objective, physiological responses of the auditory nerve to sound.
For young children, accurate programming is critical to developing language skills.
“Language has a huge impact on education,” Hughes said. “The earlier we can provide a better fidelity signal to them, the earlier they can use that information to develop speech and language.”
The research will also help others unable to communicate, such as people with cognitive disabilities, and fine-tune and support feedback for all users.
Cochlear implants require frequent, lifelong follow-up in clinics with specialized equipment and sound booths, which can be a burdensome commitment. Hughes is researching solutions to conduct speech perception testing and programming using distance technology or videoconferencing. Such virtual care may one day be conducted through a cloud-based service via a computer or even a smartphone.
The National Institutes of Health’s National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders funds this research.
Nebraska news release: Nebraska researcher aims to improve experiences for cochlear implant users