The Penny

Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing.

[Sunday, May 17, 2009]

What Is It Like?

This is what Laynie has in the left side of her head. And she wants one for the right.

What does Laynie hear? It's not what I hear. I have 30,000 input points in my cochlea, all feeding the auditory nerve with information. Laynie has 22. No wonder people need to learn to listen with a cochlear implant.

I read a blog by a man who became deaf as a young adult, who received a cochlear implant one year later. After getting used to the implant, he said that his dog's bark was different, and the phone no longer says, "briiiiing!" It now says, "brack!" Hmm. That's what started my thinking about this topic.

A girl who seems to have been deaf all her life but was a successful hearing aid user described the sound of rain through her cochlear implant. She said it sounded like on a Sonic the Hedgehog game, when Sonic picked up a bunch of gold rings. I imagine it might be like when you walk through a casino and hear the slot machines. I can see why that might not be enjoyable, and why Laynie might hate running water. She doesn't complain about rain, though.

There are cochlear implant simulations online, including this one, this one, this one, and this one. The last three demos don't say what they are, so I'll explain: they have the same audio clip repeated five times. First is a simulated 4-channel implant, then 8 channels, 16 channels, 32 channels, and finally the actual audio clip. So the last one on each clip sounds great because it's not through a cochlear implant.

 But what you heard in those clips is not what Laynie hears. If you are hearing, you already know how to process sound. Without the auditory memory of spoken English, the speech clips would be harder to understand... whew, aren't they hard enough as it is? And the music ones are just awful; I can't imagine that auditory memory could help those. I can see why so many implantees are disinterested in or hate music.

However, Laynie's implant is not like most. All implants from the Cochlear and Advanced Bionics brands, as well as older Med-El implants, were inserted about 2/3 of the way into the cochlea. Laynie has a newer model Med-El implant, which is inserted nearly all the way through the cochlea. This translates into improved pitch perception and more realistic lower tones.

Implants have traditionally used timing-based processing strategies for sound. Cochlear still uses this (Cochlear is very focused on speech comprehension, not so much on enjoying what is heard). I think Advanced Bionics uses timing-based strategies, as well. Med-El offers a choice between two very different processing strategies: one timing based (HDCIS) and one frequency based (FSP). Although it is technically not indicated for prelingually deaf people (i.e. those who became deaf before learning spoken language, like Laynie), Laynie's processor is running FSP, the frequency-based program. It does contain timing information, as well, but it also contains frequency information. Timing is important for speech comprehension, but frequency is important for music, tonal languages, and more general enjoyment of sound. I'm glad Laynie's audiologist put the FSP program on her processor at activation. It should allow her to enjoy music and movies at least as much as she did with her hearing aid... hopefully more.

BUT the fact that Laynie uses a nontraditional sound processing strategy means that the cochlear implant example clips I linked above may be totally different than what she actually hears. And what you hear is secondary to what your brain processes, anyway. So I'm back to my original question: What does Laynie hear?


Laynie | May 17, 2009 at 10:11 PM

I'm curious what YOU guys hear. I know nothing compare between us--30,000 vs 22. I still think it's amazing how can cochlear implant handle 22. I do understand it's all about frequency. And I'm curious how much my brain will improve and understand the different between high and low frequency. UMMM.. I'm working on it.

Annie | May 18, 2009 at 6:40 AM

You must hear something pretty decent, since you want a second CI.

Hmmm... I think I'll write a new blog post to explain what we hear. :D

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