For patients with bilateral cochlear implants (BiCIs), understanding a target talker in a noisy situation can be difficult. Current efforts for improving speech-in-noise understanding have focused on improving signal-to-noise ratio by using multiple microphones or signal processing, with only moderate improvements in speech understanding performance. However, BiCI users typically report having a better ear for listening which can lead to an asymmetry in speech unmasking performance. This work proposes a novel listening strategy for improving speech-in-noise understanding by combining (a) a priori knowledge of a better ear and having a BiCI user selectively attend to a target talker in that ear with (b) signal processing that delivers the target talker to the better ear and the noisy background to the opposite ear. This strategy is different from traditional noise reduction strategies because it maintains situational awareness (background sounds are delivered to the ear contralateral to the better ear) while improving speech understanding. Speech recognition performance was evaluated with and without the better ear strategy in a speech-in-noise listening test using a virtual auditory space created from individualized head-related transfer functions. Listeners showed an average improvement of 4.4 dB signal-to-noise ratio in their speech reception threshold when using the better ear strategy with no listener showing a decrement in performance. This implies that the strategy has the potential to boost speech-in-noise recognition in BiCI users and may be useful in other hearing assistance devices such as hearing aids.
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- bilateral cochlear implants
- speech-in-noise understanding
- signal processing strategy
- Wiener filter
- noise reduction