Objectives: Interaural level differences (ILD) and interaural timing differences (ITD) are important cues for locating sounds in space. Adult bilateral cochlear implant (CI) users use ILDs more effectively than ITDs. Few studies investigated the ability of children who use bilateral CIs to make use of these binaural cues. Our working hypothesis was that children using bilateral CIs are able to perceive changes in ITDs and ILDs similar to their normal-hearing (NH) peers.
Design: Participants were two groups of children; 19 bilateral implant users (CI) and nine NH children. The children in the CI group had received a second CI after 4.9 +/- 2.8 yrs of unilateral use. Children performed a four alternative forced-choice lateralization task in which they were asked to describe stimuli as coming from the left side, right side, middle of the head, or from both sides simultaneously. Stimuli were 500 msec trains of electrical pulses delivered to apical electrode no. 18 (CI group) or clicks (NH group) presented 11 times per second with either ITDs (0, 400, 1000, or 2000 microsec delay between sides) or level differences (0, 10, or 20 Current Units (CI group) or 0, 10, or 20 dB (NH group) difference between sides). ITDs were presented using current levels that were balanced using left and right electrically evoked brain stem responses. Stimulus levels evoking response amplitudes that were most similar were used.
Results: Responses from children in the CI group changed significantly with changes in ILD of bilateral stimuli, but not with changes in ITD. Responses from children in the CI group were significantly different from those in the NH group in three ways. Children in the CI group perceived bilaterally presented electrical pulses: (1) to come from the second implanted side more often than the first, (2) to rarely come from the middle, and (3) to come from both sides of the head simultaneously. Perceived changes in lateralization with ILD changes were correlated with differences in amplitudes of electrically evoked brain stem responses by the left versus right CI.
Conclusions: The results of this study illustrate that children who use bilateral CIs can lateralize stimuli on the basis of level cues, but have difficulty interpreting interimplant timing differences. Perceived lateralization of bilaterally presented stimuli to the second implanted side in many of the stimulus conditions may relate to the use of different device generations between sides. Further differences from normal lateralization responses could be due to abnormal binaural processing, possibly resulting from a period of unilateral hearing before the provision of a second implant or due to insufficiently matched interimplant stimuli. It may be possible to use objective measures such as electrically evoked auditory brain stem responses wave eV amplitudes to provide balanced levels of bilateral stimulation in children who have had no binaural hearing experience.