Thursday, March 28, 2013

Trying FM on Neptune again

After a few more attempts of trying to get the Phonak FM system to work with my Neptune with no results, and after a few emails back and forth with an AB regional specialist, he called AB and asked them to send me a new Neptune Connect, in hopes that would solve my FM problem.  Yesterday when I got home, there was a FedEx package waiting for me under my welcome mat.  Yay new Neptune Connect is here!  I dropped everything else I had with me onto my chair, then got the Neptune from the book case where I keep all my CI stuff on and got to work.  Took the original Connect off, put the new one on, plugged the MLxi FM receiver into the FM port on the Neptune connect, turned everything on and voila!  FM was working great.  Something must have gotten loose or something like that in the original Connect.  Hopefully I don't encounter this problem again.  I remember the first time I tried using the FM set up on my Neptune, months before I even got the new transmitter, and had no problems with getting the FM to work.  Worked great right off the bat but then a few months later (after getting the new Phonak transmitter), lots of trouble.  Hmmm...  The original Neptune Connect is being mailed back to AB today.

Was going to play with the FM today with my iPod... This morning, the iPod still had enough battery power that it should have lasted while I worked.  Tried turning the iPod on a few minutes ago, and nada.  Oh great.  It's charging now, but I can't play with it while it's charging, since it's an older iPod.  Wish my iPod Touch's audio port wasn't broken, it didn't matter if it was charging or not, it would still be playable.  Ah maybe I should just load some music to my iPhone instead... but alas, my desktop tower seems to be dead (and my iTunes is on that computer with all the music loaded on it).  I'll have to spend some time updating the iTunes on my laptop and resyncing the music over (good thing I have an external hard drive that has all of my music and photos!).  There's no school tomorrow, due to it being Good Friday, so perhaps I'll have some time to get my iTunes all set up on my laptop and get some music synced to the iPhone.

Technology.... most of the time it's fantastic, but there are moments when it's just a pain to deal with.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Georgia Tech team drastically improving cochlear implant device that assists thousands of hearing impaired

The cochlear implant is widely considered to be the most successful neural prosthetic on the market. The implant, which helps deaf individuals perceive sound, translates auditory information into electrical signals that go directly to the brain, bypassing cells that don't serve this function as they should because they are damaged.

According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, approximately 188,000 people worldwide have received cochlear implants since these devices were introduced in the early 1980s, including roughly 41,500 adults and 25,500 children in the United States.

Despite their prevalence, cochlear implants have a long way to go before their performance is comparable to that of the intact human ear. Led by Pamela Bhatti, an assistant professor in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, a team of researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology has developed a new type of interface between the device and the brain that could dramatically improve the sound quality of the next generation of implants.

A normal ear processes sound the way a Rube Goldberg machine flips a light switch – via a perfectly-timed chain reaction involving a number of pieces and parts. First, sound travels down the canal of the outer ear, striking the eardrum and causing it to vibrate. The vibration of the eardrum causes small bones in the middle ear to vibrate, which in turn, creates movement in the fluid of the inner ear, or cochlea. This causes movement in tiny structures called hair cells, which translate the movement into electrical signals that travel to the brain via the auditory nerve.

Dysfunctional hair cells are the most common culprit in a type of hearing loss called sensorineural deafness, named for the resulting breakdown in communication between the ear and the brain. Sometimes the hair cells don't function properly from birth, but severe trauma or a bad infection can cause irreparable damage to these delicate structures as well.

Contemporary cochlear implants

Traditional hearing aids, which work by amplifying sound, rely on the presence of some functioning hair cells. A cochlear implant, on the other hand, bypasses the hair cells completely. Rather than restoring function, it works by translating sound vibrations captured by a microphone outside the ear into electrical signals. These signals are transmitted to the brain by the auditory nerve, which interprets them as sound.

Cochlear implants are only recommended for individuals with severe to profound sensorineural hearing loss, meaning those who aren't able to hear sounds below 70 decibels. (Conversational speech typically occurs between 20 and 60 decibels.)

The device itself consists of an external component that attaches via a magnetic disk to an internal component, implanted under the skin behind the ear. The external component detects sounds and selectively amplifies speech. The internal component converts this information into electrical impulses, which are sent to a bundle of thin wire electrodes threaded through the cochlea.

Improving the interface

As an electrical engineer, Bhatti sees the current electrode configuration as a significant barrier to clear sound transmission in the current device.

"In an intact ear, the hair cells are plentiful, and are in close contact with the nerves that transmit sound information to the brain," says Bhatti. "The challenge with the implant is getting efficient coupling between the electrodes and the nerves."

Contemporary implants contain between 12 and 22 wire electrodes, each of which conveys a signal for a different pitch. The idea is the more electrodes, the clearer the message.

So why not add more wire electrodes to the current design and call it a day?

Much like house-hunting in New York City, the problem comes down to a serious lack of available real estate. At its widest, the cochlea is 2 millimeters in diameter, or about the thickness of a nickel. As it coils, it tapers down to a mere 200 micrometers, about the width of a human hair.

"While we'd like to be able to increase the number of electrodes, the space issue is a major challenge from an engineering perspective," says Bhatti.

With funding from the National Science Foundation, Bhatti and her team have developed a new, thin-film, electrode array that is up to three times more sensitive than traditional wire electrodes, without adding bulk.

Unlike wire electrodes, the new array is also flexible, meaning it can get closer to the inner wall of the cochlea. The researchers believe this will create better coupling between the array and the nervous system, leading to a crisper signal.

According to Bhatti, one of the biggest challenges is actually implanting the device into the spiral-shaped cochlea.

"We could have created the best array in the world, but it wouldn't have mattered if the surgeon couldn't get it in the right spot," says Bhatti.

To combat this problem, the team has invented an insertion method that protects the array and serves as a guide for surgeons to ensure proper placement. The research is being done in collaboration with Georgia Regents University.

Before it's approved for use in humans, it will need to undergo rigorous testing to ensure that it is both safe and effective; however, Bhatti is already thinking about what's next. She envisions that one day, the electrodes won't need to be attached to an array at all. Instead, they will be anchored directly to the cochlea with a biocompatible material that will allow them to more seamlessly integrate with the brain.

The most important thing, according to Bhatti, is not to lose sight of the big picture.

"We are always designing with the end-user in mind," says Bhatti. "The human component is the most important one to consider when we translate science into practice."


HiRes Optima™ Sound Processing from Advanced Bionics Receives Worldwide Approval

VALENCIA, Calif., March 20, 2013 – Advanced Bionics (AB), a global leader in cochlear implant technology and a company of the Sonova Group, announced today that it received FDA, Health Canada and TÜV approval for the global distribution of HiRes Optima™* sound processing. The world’s newest sound strategy for cochlear implant recipients, HiRes Optima delivers optimized battery life with the same great performance as AB’s patented HiRes Fidelity 120™* processing. AB cochlear implant recipients using this new technology enjoy an average improvement of 55% in battery life, giving them considerably more time to hear their world before needing to change a battery.

As part of a company-wide commitment to providing the best performance, Advanced Bionics continually innovates sound processing technology to help recipients experience as close to normal hearing as possible. AB built HiRes Optima processing on the HiRes Fidelity 120 platform to benefit from its built-in performance capabilities. As the industry’s only sound strategy that uses 120 spectral bands to deliver five times more sound resolution than any other cochlear implant system, HiRes Fidelity 120 has been developed to reveal all the dimensions of sound, from the rich layers of music to the subtle nuances of tone during a conversation. HiRes Optima provides the same rich and detailed sound with an improved battery life.

“Nothing on the market can compete with the sound quality from our HiRes Fidelity 120 technology. To deliver the same performance and substantially increase battery life for our recipients is a great accomplishment,” said Hansjuerg Emch, President of Advanced Bionics and Group Vice President of the Sonova Medical Division within which AB resides. “HiRes Optima perfectly represents the intense effort and engineering expertise that make AB the leading innovator in our industry.”

Benefiting from the HiRes Fidelity 120 platform, HiRes Optima also delivers AB’s proprietary current steering technology. Other implants use a single current source to stimulate only one electrode at a time, limiting the number of potential spectral bands. Like AB’s HiRes Fidelity 120, HiRes Optima has multiple current sources, enabling two or more electrodes to be stimulated at the same time. This simultaneous stimulation allows current to be “steered” between electrodes, giving AB cochlear implant recipients the opportunity to hear more pitches. Recipients using research software have demonstrated the ability to perceive up to 450 pitches.1

HiRes Optima will be available for use with AB’s next-generation sound processor as well as Neptune™ and Harmony™ processors.

For more information about HiRes Optima sound processing, or any Advanced Bionics product, contact a local AB representative or visit


Friday, March 8, 2013

Prevnar-13 vaccine

This past fall, a link from the CDC website was being shared on various CI-related facebook groups and such.  The CDC updated their pneumococcal vaccine guidelines, and recommended that those who are getting a cochlear implant, or those who already have the implants, should get both the Prevnar-13 and the Pneumovax vaccines.  I shared this link with my CI audiologist in email late last October, and she was going to bring it up at the next team meeting at the CI Center.

Well, last week I got mail from the center, and enclosed was the information on the updated vaccination recommendations for cochlear implant users.  I then shot off an email to my primary doctor's nurse about this, and she had to do some research before finding another doctor's office that has the adult Prevnar-13 vaccine.  She was able to get me an appointment with them.

Yesterday, I went to this doctor's office, filled out some paper work, and then got the vaccine.  The nurse was wondering why I was getting it and asked if I was immunocompromised, so I told her it was because of the cochlear implant and the CDC updating the recommendations.  Turns out she has a son with hearing loss, but he doesn't qualify for an implant just yet, but maybe a few years down the road.  Anyway, I got the vaccine, and she covered the injection site with a Daffy Duck bandaid. Cool!  Then I was on my way.  Now I'm covered!

I may not like shots, but I most certainly do not want to take any chances when it comes to pneumococcal meningitis, so I was fine with getting this vaccine (even if it resulted in my arm being pretty sore).

Friday, March 1, 2013


I was almost at work.... I had just turned onto the street in front of the newspaper when I saw an ambulance in the distance.  I pulled over to the curb (I was already out of the ambulance's way), and waited until the ambulance went by.  I wanted to see if I could hear the sirens with my implant.  Nope, not really.  When it was right behind me, I heard the sirens, but it was really quiet and low pitched.  Interesting!  Anything that has a high pitched sound (like female voices and such), they just sound low to me.  Perhaps my audiologist can try to fix that when I see her again in April.  Even listening to certain music, music that was made when the artists were kids, they sound like they have low voices even though they actually had high voices at the time.  I get amused listening to such music, knowing the voices were originally high but they sound low with the implant on.

As for the FM use with my Neptune processor... Well, I have discovered that the set up doesn't always work.  If the Neptune doesn't recognize the MLx receiver, I have to fiddle with it, taking the Neptune apart and everything.  Sometimes it takes a few rounds of disassembling, then reassembling, the Neptune and FM receiver before it finally works.  Not something I want to do during English class, I have no time to be messing around!  I haven't used the Neptune with the FM the last couple of weeks or so.  I use the FM with my hearing aid, then the implant is just the implant with no FM input, and it works out I think.  The set up just has been finicky.  Don't know if it's the Neptune processor, or if it's the FM receiver, but it gets kind of annoying when it doesn't work when I want it to.