Data show that two 'bionic' ears can be better than one
March 26, 2007
Research by a professor of psychology at the University of New England is revealing that profoundly deaf people fitted with a cochlear implant (or "Bionic Ear") can benefit from having implants in both ears.
Professor Bill Noble has been analysing data collected from more than 180 patients (including about 40 with implants in both ears) in the Cochlear Implant Program at the University of Iowa in the United States. Professor Noble, who is a consultant to the program, said it was the largest-scale subjective assessment of cochlear implants to be undertaken so far.
"A recent British study concluded that the added benefit from a second implant did not justify the additional expense," he said. "After analysing the Iowa data, I would not go along with that. The responses of these patients indicate that a second implant can increase confidence (and thus reduce anxiety) in a social context, make it easier to understand speech in a noisy environment (or speech that is unusually soft), and significantly enhance the ability to locate sounds. It can also enhance the quality – and 'naturalness' – of sounds."
Professor Noble (pictured here), who is a specialist in the psychology of hearing, began his analysis of the Iowa data in 2005, during a 12-month term as Levitt Visiting Professor in that university's College of Medicine. The patients in the Cochlear Implant Program had begun "self-rating" their experience of the implants five years earlier, at his suggestion. "Without this process of subjective assessment, the picture would have remained incomplete," he said.
He explained that the cochlear implant, developed by Professor Graeme Clark (the founder and Director Emeritus of the Bionic Ear Institute at the University of Melbourne), was an array of electrodes inserted into the inner ear to stimulate the auditory nerve directly. Designed for people with severe hearing loss, it can lead to a dramatic improvement on what can be achieved with even the best acoustic hearing aids – and thus a corresponding improvement in quality of life.
"While the added improvement from a second implant is not dramatic," Professor Noble said, "our data show that it can enhance the patient's quality of life even further by reducing the effort required for listening in more demanding circumstances."
"These findings could contribute to the formation of future public policies on the treatment of severe hearing loss," he concluded.
THE PHOTOGRAPH displayed here shows Professor Bill Noble working with an experimental acoustic hearing aid.
Posted by Jim Scanlan at March 26, 2007 05:05 PM