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      Can training at home help people with cochlear implants understand speech better?

      This project could lead to a highly effective training programme to help people with cochlear implants make the most of them.

      It's a three-year project at University College London, led by Professor Stuart Rosen. It began in March 2014 and will end in August 2017.

      Background

      The hearing you experience through a cochlear implant is very different to natural hearing.

      Speech sounds are distorted and 'degraded' in several ways. This is usually worse when you're trying to listen to speech in a noisy room; many people with cochlear implants can make out speech well when it's quiet.

      People who lose their hearing after learning to speak have to learn to correlate the distorted speech information they get from their implants with their memories of speech from before they became deaf.

      Project aims

      The speech recognition of someone with a cochlear implant (CI) usually improves with 'practice' over the months or years following implantation. Professor Rosen and his team are investigating to what extent formal training can help.

      The training may have several advantages over 'everyday' learning, including providing listening conditions and speech materials that are optimised to promote learning, and giving people the opportunity to improve their listening skills in their own time and in their own way.

      The training being tested here is being carried out by volunteers in their own homes, using computers. They are given recordings of stories divided up into phrases – and they have to select the correct word they heard. This approach targets different listening skills, including distinguishing between similar speech sounds and using the context of the story to enhance understanding.

      Stuart Rosen and his team are using a wide range of tests and questionnaires to test the effectiveness of this kind of training. This will allow them to assess how this training helps to improve CI users' speech understanding, and the extent to which these improvements lead to meaningful benefits in everyday communication.

      Benefit

      If proven effective, this kind of computer-based training would be a highly cost-effective way of helping people with cochlear implants to improve their understanding of speech. Ultimately, this would give people increased confidence in their ability to engage more fully with the wider world.