Neuroimaging pre/post hearing treatment
Hearing loss is a condition that does not discriminate; it is a condition that affects people of all ages, ethnicities, and economical backgrounds. Often, hearing loss is stigmatized as a disability for the elderly; however, this perception ignores the importance of optimal hearing in children and young adults, who, although they encompass a smaller population, are faced with greater challenges in regards to socialization and developing a strong self-image in their formative childhood years. From an economical standpoint, it is also a common misconception that hearing assistive technology is reserved for the rich, given that a pair of basic hearing aids can cost anywhere from $3500 to $7500. The fact of the matter is, there have been many studies outlining the drastic effects hearing loss has on a person and from these studies, many NGOs and government organizations have implemented programs that provide hearing aids and rehabilitative services to those in need, often at no cost. Therefore, access to hearing aids is not the primary issue; the main issue lies in understanding the adverse effects of hearing loss on the social psychological well-being and the developing brain of an individual to a point where that person is compelled to receive the proper aid.
Studies that quantify the improvements in the well-being of patients and their ability to function in society with the aid of hearing assistive technology or corrective hearing surgery are lacking. Utilizing modern technology, such as EEG, MRI, CT, or SPECT scans, to measure the difference in brain activity pre and post hearing treatment can reveal quantifiable evidence of the affects of hearing loss on the brain’s development and functionality. For example, using auditory brainstem response or ABR, a study conducted in 2002, demonstrated that early cochlear hearing loss has a direct correlation (p<.001) with the severity of hearing impairment and interpeak latency I-V (IPL I-V) (Tibussek et. Al, 2002). A decrease in auditory input delays the maturation of the higher brainstem functions, which may suggest that auditory deprivation can also have an affect on other structures of the brain. Another study revealed that brain atrophy affected hearing (Guo et. Al., 2008). The reverse phenomenon, however, has not been studied. I hypothesize that if hearing loss can accelerate brain atrophy, scans would be able to reveal if there is a marked difference in brain activity or structure. With most studies currently focused on behavioral science, I believe that modern technology can offer a different and more quantifiable approach to studying the effects of hearing loss on the brain, and thus, provide compelling statistical reasons for an individual to seek the proper aid. Although it is a goal of mine to have more people equipped with hearing aids, my research focus lies at the forefront of finding, quantifying, and neutralizing the parameters that would otherwise keep a person from seeking treatment.
MAIN HYPOTHESIS: Using neuroimaging techniques to quantify the brains functional capacities during social activities in individuals with hearing loss pre and post hearing treatment will provide conclusive and non-objective data about the improvements in the wellbeing of an individual with hearing loss.
POSSIBLE METHODS: By utilizing a portable electroencephalogram device, EMOTIV EPOC+ (a portable device that allows individuals to monitor their brain’s performance), we can track in real time and in a real social environment the change in cognitive output before and after hearing aids are placed on an individual.
ONGOING RESEARCH: I am proposing this idea to my school, CSULB. If the school supports it financially, I will move on to purchase the equipment and develop a thorough design study with a faculty advisor.