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Cochlear Implants in Both Ears Enables Better Hearing

A recent study by scientists at University of Wisconsin-Madison examines whether deaf children who've received two cochlear// implants hear better.

Led by Ruth Litovsky, an investigator in the UW-Madison Waisman Center, the team's research suggests that deaf children who have a cochlear implant in each ear more accurately locate sounds when they use both implants instead of one. Children with two implants also become more skilled at localizing sound over time.

Information like this can be useful, says Litovsky, when doctors and parents are deciding whether a child should get one or two of the electronic devices, which allow deaf people to hear by bypassing the damaged inner ear, or cochlea, to stimulate the auditory nerve directly.

It's not a simple choice. A single implant and the required surgery can cost $50,000. The device also permanently damages the cochlea, which might prevent recipients from taking advantage of potentially superior treatments for deafness down the road.

Patients never received more than one implant until about ten years ago. Then, doctors began to fit people with two, hoping this would assist them in understanding speech, especially in 'cocktail party' environments with lots of competing sounds.

'But there are still many remaining questions about the actual extent of the benefits of having two cochlear implants,' Litovsky says. Only about three percent of the 100,000 people worldwide who currently wear implants have received two, she estimates.

Litovsky is an expert in binaural hearing, or hearing with two ears. 'We try to understand how having two ears is helpful,' she says. One main benefit: two ears make it easier to locate sounds. 'If you close an ear, walk around and try to identify where sounds are coming from, it's very, very hard,' she says.

To test whether a pair of cochlear implants aids this ability, Litovsky's team has, to date, studied 55 deaf
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