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The Search for Clarity

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Jessica J. Messersmith, Ph.D., Assistant Professor & Clinical Supervisor for Communication Sciences and Disorders is uncovering how cochlear implant users hear.

Many of us are familiar with hearing aids either from a sibling, relative or grandparent. Hearing aids allow us to communicate with each other by making sounds louder.  However, when an individual is profoundly deaf or hard of hearing, simply making the sound louder does not improve hearing.

Often times, these individuals rely on a cochlear implant to help them hear. A cochlear implant (CI) is a small, complex electronic device that bypasses the damaged portion(s) of the hearing system, converting sounds into electronic impulses that directly stimulate the auditory nerve.  

According to professor Messersmith, "Most cochlear implant users experience an improvement in their ability to communicate with friends and family, but there is significant variability in the degree of success each person has. 

The ability to recognize speech varies greatly across CI users due to various factors related to both the listener and the device. "One such factor could be the use of non-optimal listening strategies by CI users, in other words, listeners not using the most optimal features of a sound to make decisions about that sound," Messersmith said. 

Utilizing strict control testing, Messersmith evaluates how CI users understand different sounds by varying specific aspects of a sound, such as loudness and pitch. "The goal is to determine what sounds are important to listeners," she said. "This knowledge may lead to adjustments in how cochlear implants stimulate the auditory nerve to more accurately reflect the original sound." 

Cochlear implant use has increased over the past several years, and this has led to an increased demand for individuals with knowledge and training of CI function, service and care. Messersmith's specialty has enabled the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders to expand and provide students additional opportunities to learn and develop skills that make them more competitive post-graduation.

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Jessica J. Messersmith Faculty Bio

Communication Sciences and Disorders

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