Research finds brain responses to lip-reading can benefit cochlear implant users

August 15, 2017 by Emma Rayner
Research finds brain responses to lip-reading can benefit cochlear implant users
Credit: University of Nottingham

A world-first study has found that lip-reading may have a beneficial effect on the brain and on a person's ability to hear with a cochlear implant, contrary to what was previously believed.

Currently, when someone receives a cochlear , clinical professionals delivering rehabilitation encourage them to focus on the sound only, and to avoid reliance on visual language (such as lip-reading) for fear that it will limit how well they are able to learn to hear with their cochlear implant.

The study, published in the journal PNAS, found that, in contrast to existing theory, the more a person's brain became responsive to lip-reading the more it also became responsive to sounds delivered through their cochlear implant, and the better they were able to hear. The results could inform future rehabilitation of people with hearing loss who have implants fitted.

The team of hearing experts at the NIHR Nottingham Biomedical Research Centre used a brain imaging method called fNIRS (functional near-infrared spectroscopy) that uses light to measure . The technique works by shining harmless infra-red light into the head to measure how much oxygen different parts of the brain are using – the more oxygen being used, the more active that part of the brain.

Lead researcher on the project, Dr Carly Anderson, said: "Up to now, there has been no scientific evidence of a link between how the hearing parts of the brain respond to visual and how well a person can hear with their cochlear implant. It is difficult to measure brain activity in people with implants as the device has magnetic and electrical parts that are incompatible with well-known scanning methods like MRI. So we studied deaf adults who received from the NHS Nottingham Auditory Implant Programme and used infra-red light to examine brain activity instead.

"We measured how hearing parts of the brain responded to visual speech before the volunteers received their cochlear implant, and then again 6 months after the implant had been switched on. From this we could see how their brain activity changed over that time. We also tested how well they could hear speech with their implant 6 months after switch-on, using speech tests which require volunteers to repeat back spoken sentences played to them."

Dr Douglas Hartley from the NIHR Nottingham Biomedical Research Centre and ENT Consultant Surgeon at Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust, said: "The results of the brain imaging were very interesting and revealing. We found that the to lip-reading did not need to decline from before to after implantation for a person to hear well with their cochlear implant. Instead we found that a greater increase in the brain response to lip-reading was linked to better hearing ability, as well as a greater increase in the brain response to auditory speech."

The study shows that activation of hearing parts of the brain by lip-reading does not limit the ability of these brain regions to be activated by speech sounds heard through the implant, nor does it limit the ability to hear with a cochlear implant. In fact it shows the opposite: increased activation by lip-reading could help achieve greater restoration of following . In other words, visual cues may help people with cochlear impants rather than hinder them.

The study is the first to have measured brain activation to lip-reading and heard speech before and after implantation in the same cochlear implant patients, and the first to link the changes in their brain responses to their ability to hear with a cochlear implant.

The researchers stress that at present they cannot say what is linking activity to sound and lip-reading together. They have not compared peoples' ability to lip-read in this study. The team did not train people to become better at lip-reading from before to after implantation, or examine whether this helps a person to hear well with their implant. These are possible avenues of research in the future.

Explore further: Cochlear implants for advanced hearing loss

More information: Michiko Kodama el al., "In vivo loss-of-function screens identify KPNB1 as a new druggable oncogene in epithelial ovarian cancer," PNAS (2017). www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1705441114

Related Stories

Cochlear implants for advanced hearing loss

November 11, 2016
Dear Mayo Clinic: I'm 72 and have worn hearing aids for about a decade. Over the past several years, my hearing seems to be getting worse. Although I've tried several different kinds of hearing aids, I can't hear well with ...

Engineering music to sound better with cochlear implants

February 26, 2016
When hearing loss becomes so severe that hearing aids no longer help, a cochlear implant not only amplifies sounds but also lets people hear speech clearly.

For children with cochlear implants, oral communication may provide better outcomes (Update)

June 12, 2017
In a new, multisite study of deaf children with cochlear implants, UT Dallas researchers have found that children with either no exposure or limited exposure to sign language end up with better auditory, speaking and reading ...

Infants benefit from implants with more frequency sounds

May 19, 2014
(Medical Xpress)—A new study from a UT Dallas researcher demonstrates the importance of considering developmental differences when creating programs for cochlear implants in infants.

Implants can help deaf people hear again

April 25, 2016
Cochlear implants should be an alternative for patients with long-term deafness as well. This was found in a new study at Uppsala University. Previously, patients with an extended deafness duration were thought to derive ...

Cochlear implant success depends on brain circuit organization

March 28, 2017
A cochlear implant is an electronic device capable of restoring hearing in a profoundly deaf person by directly stimulating the nerve endings in the inner ear. This technology enables people who have become deaf to communicate ...

Recommended for you

Researchers discover key signaling protein for muscle growth

November 20, 2017
Researchers at the University of Louisville have discovered the importance of a well-known protein, myeloid differentiation primary response gene 88 (MyD88), in the development and regeneration of muscles. Ashok Kumar, Ph.D., ...

New breast cell types discovered by multidisciplinary research team

November 20, 2017
A joint effort by breast cancer researchers and bioinformaticians has provided new insights into the molecular changes that drive breast development.

Brain cell advance brings hope for Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease

November 20, 2017
Scientists have developed a new system to study Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in the laboratory, paving the way for research to find treatments for the fatal brain disorder.

Hibernating ground squirrels provide clues to new stroke treatments

November 17, 2017
In the fight against brain damage caused by stroke, researchers have turned to an unlikely source of inspiration: hibernating ground squirrels.

Age and gut bacteria contribute to multiple sclerosis disease progression

November 17, 2017
Researchers at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School published a study suggesting that gut bacteria at young age can contribute to multiple sclerosis (MS) disease onset and progression.

Molecular guardian defends cells, organs against excess cholesterol

November 16, 2017
A team of researchers at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health has illuminated a critical player in cholesterol metabolism that acts as a molecular guardian in cells to help maintain cholesterol levels within a safe, ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.