Electro-haptic enhancement of speech-in-noise performance in cochlear implant users
Abstract: Cochlear implant (CI) users receive only limited sound information through their implant, which means that they struggle to understand speech in noisy environments. Recent work has suggested that combining the electrical signal from the CI with a haptic signal that provides crucial missing sound information (“electro-haptic stimulation”; EHS) could improve speech-in-noise performance. The aim of the current study was to test whether EHS could enhance speech-in-noise performance in CI users using: (1) a tactile signal derived using an algorithm that could be applied in real time, (2) a stimulation site appropriate for a real-world application, and (3) a tactile signal that could readily be produced by a compact, portable device. We measured speech intelligibility in multi-talker noise with and without vibro-tactile stimulation of the wrist in CI users, before and after a short training regime. No effect of EHS was found before training, but after training EHS was found to improve the number of words correctly identified by an average of 8.3%-points, with some users improving by more than 20%-points. Our approach could offer an inexpensive and non-invasive means of improving speech-in-noise performance in CI users.