I recently spent a full day back at Vanderbilt for my post activation 6 month mapping appointment and to participate in some research studies.
It is so amazing how my hearing continues to change – for the better, and assisted with all the various tweaks possible through this amazing technology. From others I communicate with frequently, changes will probably continue throughout the rest of my life. That’s terrific!
I’m particularly interested in research about hearing loss and cochlear implants. I’ve participated in several studies now. During this visit, I had a CT scan for one study. The study is going to use the scans of the participants to identify the anatomical location of the electrode within the cochlea and then try to predict specific mapping settings for a person to try. The cochlea is spiral shaped and the highest frequencies of sound are picked up at the point of entrance to it. As you progress along the spiral, the frequencies picked up progress to be lower an lower. It makes sense then that the placement of the electrode within the cochlea should be predictive of the range of frequencies a cochlear implant will be able to pick up. I think this study is exciting and could potentially help with a starting point for the mapping (programming) activities.
Another study I participated in was specific to the manufacturer of my cochlear implants, Advanced Bionics. It is studying which combination of microphones on the processor (the piece that sits on top of the ear) do the best job of helping hear in noisy situations. I sat in the sound booth with about 6 speakers facing me on all sides. With background noise piped into the room, recorded short sentences were played and I was asked to repeat them. We tested multiple microphone settings twice and each test included at least 10 sentences. I could definitely tell a difference between the various microphone settings. We split the testing up with some before a break for lunch and the rest after and took short breaks throughout. This test wore me out. The level of concentration needed to focus on the recorded sentences is exhausting. It reminded me of the fatigue I had when I wore hearing aids.
The last study I participated in that day – yes, all of this was in one day – involved music perception. Music appreciation is the holy grail for most people with cochlear implants. Through the rehab exercises I do and the continued testing of various programming settings, I am making progress toward getting my brain to understand music again. This study was fun. It included tests to listen to 2 sounds and pick the one that was either a higher or lower pitch than the other sound. I got 85% of them correct. There was also a test with 6 or 8 familiar melodies like Old MacDonald Had a Farm and BINGO. The first several song notes were played but not in the normal rhythm since the rhythm could give some of the songs away. My job was to listen to the notes and pick the song that was being played. I also scored 85% on that test. At the end, the researcher told me that I had scored better than most of the other study participants, which surprised me. In fact, my performance surprised me as I was doing the tests. It gave me hope and reassurance that I’m heading in the right direction with music perception.