University of Cambridge > > Cambridge Neuroscience Interdisciplinary Seminars > Designing the BEARS (Both Ears) Virtual Reality Training Package to Improve Spatial Hearing in Young People with Bilateral Cochlear Implant

Designing the BEARS (Both Ears) Virtual Reality Training Package to Improve Spatial Hearing in Young People with Bilateral Cochlear Implant

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Dr Dervila Glynn.

Theme: Brains and Machines

Deborah Vickers, SOUND Lab, Cambridge Hearing Group, Clinical Neurosciences

Background: Older children and teenagers with bilateral cochlear implants (CI) often do not fulfil their potential due to poor spatial hearing abilities, which arise from their difficulties to fuse sounds from the two ears. This deficit jeopardises speech and language development, as well as education and social well-being. These listening challenges are worsened by the lack of protocols for fitting bilateral cochlear implants and of resources for spatial-hearing training. A large body of research demonstrates that sound localisation can improve with training, underpinned by plasticity-driven changes in the auditory pathways for children and adults. Maximal benefit for generalising training to non-trained auditory skills is best achieved by using a multi-modal (audio-visual) implementation and multi-domain training tasks (localisation, spatial speech-in-noise and spatial music). The goal of this work was to develop, using an action research protocol, a package of virtual-reality games (BEARS, Both EARS ) to train spatial hearing in teenagers with bilateral CI. We followed the NIHR and MRC Framework on Complex Interventions to Improve Health. This work forms the first two years of an NIHR Programme Grant to develop the intervention in preparation for a large scale clinical trial.

Method: We developed a logic model to underpin the development of BEARS that was based on feedback from patient groups. To develop the virtual reality games and the measures for the clinical trial we utilised formalised cycles of patient feedback. Patients experienced a prototype of the BEARS games and provided feedback, which was then transformed into system requirements for further developments. This participatory design used the patient participants (N=10) as co-creators. In the later phases of this development the patients took the equipment home and experienced that games/training programme at home before providing feedback for inclusion in the development.

Results: the main areas which were modified based on participatory feedback were the variety of immersive scenarios to cover a range of ages and interests, the number of levels of complexity to ensure small improvements were measured, the feedback and reward schemes to ensure positive reinforcement, and specific provision for participants with balance issues, who had difficulties when using head-mounted displays. The effectiveness of the finalised BEARS suite will be evaluated in a large-scale clinical trial. We have added in additional login options for other members of the family and based on patient feedback we have improved the accompanying reward schemes.

Conclusions: Through participatory design we have developed a training package (BEARS) for young people with bilateral cochlear implants. The training games are appropriate for use by the study population and ultimately should lead to patients taking control of their own management and reducing the reliance upon outpatient-based rehabilitation programmes. Virtual reality training provides a more relevant and engaging approach to rehabilitation for young people

For information on Deborah’s current research, please see here:

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