Selective attention decoding in bimodal cochlear implant users
The growing group of cochlear implant (CI) users includes subjects with preserved acoustic hearing on the opposite side to the CI. The use of both listening sides results in improved speech perception in comparison to listening with one side alone. However, large variability in the measured benefit is observed. It is possible that this variability is associated with the integration of speech across electric and acoustic stimulation modalities. However, there is a lack of established methods to assess speech integration between electric and acoustic stimulation and consequently to adequately program the devices. Moreover, existing methods do not provide information about the underlying physiological mechanisms of this integration or are based on simple stimuli that are difficult to relate to speech integration. Electroencephalography (EEG) to continuous speech is promising as an objective measure of speech perception, however, its application in CIs is challenging because it is influenced by the electrical artifact introduced by these devices. For this reason, the main goal of this work is to investigate a possible electrophysiological measure of speech integration between electric and acoustic stimulation in bimodal CI users. For this purpose, a selective attention decoding paradigm has been designed and validated in bimodal CI users. The current study included behavioral and electrophysiological measures. The behavioral measure consisted of a speech understanding test, where subjects repeated words to a target speaker in the presence of a competing voice listening with the CI side (CIS) only, with the acoustic side (AS) only or with both listening sides (CIS+AS). Electrophysiological measures included cortical auditory evoked potentials (CAEPs) and selective attention decoding through EEG. CAEPs were recorded to broadband stimuli to confirm the feasibility to record cortical responses with CIS only, AS only, and CIS+AS listening modes. In the selective attention decoding paradigm a co-located target and a competing speech stream were presented to the subjects using the three listening modes (CIS only, AS only, and CIS+AS). The main hypothesis of the current study is that selective attention can be decoded in CI users despite the presence of CI electrical artifact. If selective attention decoding improves combining electric and acoustic stimulation with respect to electric stimulation alone, the hypothesis can be confirmed. No significant difference in behavioral speech understanding performance when listening with CIS+AS and AS only was found, mainly due to the ceiling effect observed with these two listening modes. The main finding of the current study is the possibility to decode selective attention in CI users even if continuous artifact is present. Moreover, an amplitude reduction of the forward transfer response function (TRF) of selective attention decoding was observed when listening with CIS+AS compared to AS only. Further studies to validate selective attention decoding as an electrophysiological measure of electric acoustic speech integration are required.