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20th June 2017
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20th June 2017

Hearing a la mode! – the benefits of bimodal hearing

Most people who have a single cochlear implant are not fortunate enough to enjoy good natural hearing in their opposite ear. However, it’s clear we were born with two ears for a reason; so, what are the options for hearing with two ears when you meet the criteria for a CI in only one?

Why binaural is best

The benefits of binaural hearing (hearing with both ears) are well documented and proven through research.

  • Binaural hearing gives better speech discrimination in quiet and (more noticeably) in noisy situations. The ear that is further from the source of a sound receives a slightly reduced amplitude because the head obstructs the sound as it travels. Your brain interprets this tiny difference to help you understand speech better and separate it from other voices or sounds that are going on at the same time.
  • This same effect is fundamental in the localisation of sound. Your brain calculates the difference in time and volume of the sound waves as they reach each ear, allowing you to determine the direction of a sound source. As well as this being a more natural and comfortable listening experience, we naturally turn to face the source of a sound we are interested in for better focus and to use additional visual cues. Sound localisation is also important for your safety, for example helping you know which direction traffic is coming from when you are walking or crossing a road.

Getting more with a bimodal approach

The benefits of binaural hearing are clear. But it’s common for someone to have different hearing losses in their two ears so that the same solution isn’t ideal for both sides. What then?
In fact, a whole range of possibilities! Wearing a CI in one ear and a hearing aid or Baha® in the other is likely to give you better hearing than your CI alone. This is called a bimodal approach because it combines two different modes of stimulation. And, with Cochlear’s True Wireless Devices, it’s possible to stream to a hearing aid (ReSound) and your Cochlear implant simultaneously.

Better now and in the future

Research has highlighted that a single cochlear implant is more effective when it is worn alongside a hearing aid. The hearing aid provides important acoustic input, particularly from low frequencies, to complement what you hear with your cochlear implant. This helps you recognise and identify voices better and makes it easier to appreciate the melody of music. Using a hearing aid in your non-implanted ear is also critical to keep your brain in practice with interpreting binaural inputs and improve the chances of a better hearing outcome if you later get a second CI.
If you wear only one CI and you don’t support your hearing in your non-implanted ear, we suggest you discuss this as soon as possible with your clinic.

Rehab tips for binaural hearing

It’s very important that your rehabilitation includes activities to practice your binaural listening experience. There are lots of ways to do this – here are some examples:

  • Practice listening to someone speaking on your CI side and then on your hearing aid side (focus on the voice without lip reading).
  • When you are well practiced at this, try doing the same thing with some background noise, like a radio or TV.
  • Practice listening over a distance, for example, from another room. Try closing your eyes and creating a ‘sound picture’ of your environment.
  • When you’re out and about, focus on what’s around you – what sounds can you hear, from which direction and what distance?
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