Hearing management

Updated 08 September 2016

Sound may be modified for cochlear implant hearing aid users

Doctors are working alongside cochlear specialists to re-engineer and simplify music, making sound more enjoyable for listeners with cochlear implants.

0

When hearing loss becomes so severe that hearing aids no longer help, a cochlear implant not only amplifies sound but also lets people hear speech clearly.

Music is a different story.

"I've pretty much given up listening to music and being able to enjoy it," says Prudence Garcia-Renart, a musician who gave up playing the piano a few years ago. 

Read: Illegal hearing aids 'dangerous' 

"I've had the implant for 15 years now and it has done so much for me. Before I got the implant, I was working but I could not use a phone, I needed somebody to take notes for me at meetings, and I couldn't have conversations with more than one person. I can now use a phone, I recognise people's voices, I go to films, but music is awful."

Cochlear implants are designed to process speech, which is a much simpler auditory signal compared with music. People with severe hearing loss also have lost auditory neurons that transmit signals to the brain.

Infographic: Diagram of a cochlear implant 

It's not possible to tweak the settings of the implant to compensate for the loss of auditory neurons, says Anil Lalwani, MD, director of the Columbia Cochlear Implant Programme. "It's unrealistic to expect people with that kind of nerve loss to process the complexity of a symphony, even with an implant."

Instead, Dr Lalwani and members of Columbia's Cochlear Implant Music Engineering Group are trying to reengineer and simplify music to be more enjoyable for listeners with cochlear implants. "You don't necessarily need the entire piece to enjoy the music," Dr Lalwani says.

"Even though a song may have very complex layers, you can sometimes just enjoy the vocals, or you can just enjoy the instruments."

Right now, the group is testing different arrangements of musical compositions to learn which parts of the music are most important for listener enjoyment. "It's not the same for somebody who has normal hearing," Dr Lalwani says, "and that's what we have to learn."

Read: Testing hearing problems

Down the road, Dr Lalwani thinks software will be able to take an original piece of music and reconfigure it for listeners or give the listener the ability to engineer their own music.

"Our eventual goal, though, is to compose music for people with cochlear implants based on what we've learned," Dr Lalwani says. "Original pieces of music that will possibly have fewer rhythmic instruments, less reverb, possibly more vocals something that is actually designed for them." 


Read more:

Magic as Cape Town baby hears for the first time

Local innovation makes hearing screening services more accessible

18-year-old creates first sign language messaging app

Image: Hearing aid from iStock


EurekAlert

 

Ask the Expert

Hearing Expert

Francis Slabber is a Speech & Language Therapist and Audiologist who has owned and run The Hearing Clinic in Wynberg, Cape Town for the last 17 years. Francis and her team have extensive experience in fitting and supplying hearing aids as well as assistive living devices. Francis has served as the Western Cape Chairperson for the South African Association of Audiologists for three years and has given many talks on the topic of hearing loss and amplification. The Hearing Clinic has a special interest in adult and geriatric hearing impairment, hearing aid fittings and hearing rehabilitation.

Still have a question?

Get free advice from our panel of experts

The information provided does not constitute a diagnosis of your condition. You should consult a medical practitioner or other appropriate health care professional for a physical exmanication, diagnosis and formal advice. Health24 and the expert accept no responsibility or liability for any damage or personal harm you may suffer resulting from making use of this content.

* You must accept our condition

Forum Rules