4. Audio-tactile brain plasticity in children using cochlear implants

Beneficiary: Oticon, Denmark

For people who use cochlear implants, even moderate noise or acoustic scenes with multiple talkers can severely degrade speech understanding. When children with cochlear implants are integrated in schools for normally-hearing children, the negative effect of noise on learning as well as on social integration is a serious concern. Recent evidence suggests that adding a wristband which provides vibrotactile input can substantially improve speech understanding in noise as well as appreciation of acoustically complex signals like music. The objective of this project is to investigate impact of cross-modal plasticity across somatosensory and auditory brain areas on listening performance in complex acoustic scenes (speech in noise, multi-talker, music) as well as on learning and language development for children using cochlear implants. In the study, a group of children fitted with cochlear implants will be equipped with a take-home vibrotactile wristband device delivering key acoustic cues. During and after a training period of up to three months, this group will be evaluated against a control group of children with cochlear implants without vibrotactile input. A vibro-tactile input device design from Univ. Southampton is available for the project. Speech outcome and music appreciation measures will be employed along with fNIRS brain imaging techniques for studying cross-modal plasticity across auditory and somatosensory areas before and after the training period. Furthermore, brain networks related to language processing and listening effort will be studied with fNIRS in the two groups. The outcomes of the project will be an increased understanding of how vibrotactile inputs can drive brain plasticity, and how this plasticity might be related to success in understanding speech.

Supervisors: Hamish Innes-Brown, Andrej Kral, Jeremy Marozeau and Søren Kamaric Riis