Using Spectral Blurring to Assess Effects of Channel Interaction on Speech-in-Noise Perception with Cochlear Implants

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Arenberg, Julie G. 
Carlyon, Robert P. 

Abstract: Cochlear implant (CI) listeners struggle to understand speech in background noise. Interactions between electrode channels due to current spread increase the masking of speech by noise and lead to difficulties with speech perception. Strategies that reduce channel interaction therefore have the potential to improve speech-in-noise perception by CI listeners, but previous results have been mixed. We investigated the effects of channel interaction on speech-in-noise perception and its association with spectro-temporal acuity in a listening study with 12 experienced CI users. Instead of attempting to reduce channel interaction, we introduced spectral blurring to simulate some of the effects of channel interaction by adjusting the overlap between electrode channels at the input level of the analysis filters or at the output by using several simultaneously stimulated electrodes per channel. We measured speech reception thresholds in noise as a function of the amount of blurring applied to either all 15 electrode channels or to 5 evenly spaced channels. Performance remained roughly constant as the amount of blurring applied to all channels increased up to some knee point, above which it deteriorated. This knee point differed across listeners in a way that correlated with performance on a non-speech spectro-temporal task, and is proposed here as an individual measure of channel interaction. Surprisingly, even extreme amounts of blurring applied to 5 channels did not affect performance. The effects on speech perception in noise were similar for blurring at the input and at the output of the CI. The results are in line with the assumption that experienced CI users can make use of a limited number of effective channels of information and tolerate some deviations from their everyday settings when identifying speech in the presence of a masker. Furthermore, these findings may explain the mixed results by strategies that optimized or deactivated a small number of electrodes evenly distributed along the array by showing that blurring or deactivating one-third of the electrodes did not harm speech-in-noise performance.

Research Article, cochlear implants, speech perception, channel interaction, site selection
Journal Title
Journal of the Association for Research in Otolaryngology
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Springer US
Action on Hearing Loss (82)