We have developed a number of VR-based hearing training games and applications dealing with speech in noise perception, sound source localisation and music listening, as you can see in this Youtube video

Both EARS training package (BEARS) to maximise hearing in young people with bilateral cochlear implants

'Spatial hearing' is using information about where sounds come from; this helps listening in background noise and working out where a sound is (localisation). As people have more time with two cochlear implants, they get better at doing this. There is lots of research showing that sound localisation, as well as speech understanding in noise and music listening, can get better with training. The brain is so flexible and adaptable; it makes many changes in adults and children. We have developed a package of Virtual-Reality games (BEARS - Both EARS) to train spatial hearing skills in young people with bilateral cochlear implants. Our research will focus on optimising the BEARS applications and evaluating them through clinical trials.

What have young people with bilateral cochlear implants told us?

  • Everyday communication can be hard
  • It’s difficult to combine the sound from the two ears especially in noise
  • The sound from the second implant is ‘annoying’, ‘distracting’ and sounds are ‘hard to balance’ and ‘lop-sided’
  • Clinic rehabilitation is not very engaging – computer-based approaches would better fit their lifestyles

Our response

BEARS is a project funded by the NIHR with the aim to improve spatial hearing, speech in noise perception and ease of listening for children, teenagers and young adults using bilateral CIs through a number of VR-based training games. The project will run for 5 years and has two main phases:

  1. Refinement of the games and assessment tools that will be used to evaluate the intervention including a spatial speech test, a Quality of Life questionnaire and qualitative interviews
  2. Clinical trial of 8-16 year olds with bilateral implants who will use the BEARS intervention for 3 months to assess the effectiveness of the games as well as a process evaluation

Participatory design

Throughout the project, from the refinement of the BEARS games to the process evaluation, a number of Patient & Public Involvement (PPI) groups of patients and clinicians will help with the research design, provide feedback on research material and support the process evaluation.

Impact & Significance

We think that young people with bilateral cochlear implants using the ‘BEARS’ games for 3 months can really improve their real-world communication, social engagement and health-related quality of life. Our BEARS games combine technology and innovation, providing patient control over their own progress. If the BEARS intervention is successful, we will introduce it into the NHS pathway.