Binaural cue sensitivity in cochlear implant recipients with acoustic hearing preservation.


Bilateral acoustic hearing in cochlear implant (CI) recipients with hearing preservation may allow access to binaural cues. Sensitivity to acoustic binaural cues has been shown in some listeners combining electric and acoustic stimulation (EAS), yet remains poorly understood and may be subject to limitations imposed by the electrical stimulation and/or amplification asymmetries. The purpose of this study was to investigate the effect of stimulus level, frequency-dependent gain, and the addition of unilateral electrical stimulation on sensitivity to low-frequency binaural cues. Thresholds were measured for interaural time and level differences (ITD and ILD) carried by a low-frequency, bandpass noise (100-800 Hz). 16 adult CI EAS listeners (mean age = 50.2 years) each participated in three listening conditions: acoustic hearing only at 90 dB SPL, acoustic hearing only at 60 dB SPL with frequency-dependent gain, and acoustic hearing plus unilateral CI at 60 dB SPL with frequency-dependent gain applied to the acoustic channels only. Results revealed thresholds within the ecologically relevant ITD and/or ILD range for most EAS listeners. No significant effects of presentation level, frequency-dependent gain, or the addition of unilateral electrical stimulation on the resultant thresholds for ITDs or ILDs were observed at the group level. Correlational analyses related ITD and ILD thresholds to the degree of EAS benefit (i.e., advantage of acoustic hearing in the implanted ear) for speech recognition in diffuse noise. There was a significant relationship between EAS benefit and ITD thresholds, but no statistically significant relationship between EAS benefit and ILD thresholds. In summary, the results of this study are not consistent with our previous data obtained with simulated EAS in normal-hearing listeners, which showed significant binaural interference by a unilateral electrical "distractor" (Van Ginkel et al., 2019). The difference between studies suggests that chronic exposure to unilateral electrical stimulation combined with bilateral acoustic stimulation may reduce interference effects, perhaps because listeners adapt to the presence of the constant but binaurally incongruous CI stimulus. These results are consistent with past studies that demonstrated no interference in spatial hearing tasks due to the addition of a unilateral CI in adult EAS listeners.