Seattle Children's developing cochlear implant to hear music

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KREM.com

Posted on October 31, 2013 at 8:11 PM

Like many other kids around Halloween, 7-year-old Landon Brown is dressed up as a doctor for Halloween. But Brown's costume is extra special.

He is dressed up as a pint-size Dr. Jay Rubinstein, with the name tag to prove it. Rubinstein gave Brown two cochlear implants, which allowed him to hear for the first time.

"It's a pretty emotional response, either to have parents of young children who've never heard suddenly see their children hear sound, or, in the case of adults who haven't heard in many years suddenly hearing sound," said Dr. Rubinstein with Seattle Children's Hospital.

But cochlear implants still have their limitations. In particular, they still struggle when it comes to listening to music.

"Imagine listening to a piano instead of using your fingers to play the piano, but what you're using is not your fists, but your forearms," said Les Atlas, a UW electrical engineering professor.

Music doesn't sound the way it does to the rest of us when using a cochlear implant. That's why Dr. Rubinstein, who comes from a musical engineering family, and Atlas, who used to design amplifiers, are working on new software to change that.

They have already made some strides in improving music for implant wearers, but there is still plenty more to go. One goal the pair has is to make wearers able to pick out individual instruments, which is very difficult now. Voices can also be a problem, and they're working on that too.

It's not perfect, it's far from perfect," said Atlas. "But it's providing information that isn't there now."

The improved software is still a few years off from being completed.
 

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