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Functional near-infrared spectroscopy as a tool for assessing speech and spoken language processing in pediatric and adult cochlear implant users.

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Much of what is known about the course of auditory learning in following cochlear implantation is based on behavioral indicators that users are able to perceive sound. Both prelingually deafened children and postlingually deafened adults who receive cochlear implants display highly variable speech and language processing outcomes, although the basis for this is poorly understood. To date, measuring neural activity within the auditory cortex of implant recipients of all ages has been challenging, primarily because the use of traditional neuroimaging techniques is limited by the implant itself. Functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) is an imaging technology that works with implant users of all ages because it is non-invasive, compatible with implant devices, and not subject to electrical artifacts. Thus, fNIRS can provide insight into processing factors that contribute to variations in spoken language outcomes in implant users, both children and adults. There are important considerations to be made when using fNIRS, particularly with children, to maximize the signal-to-noise ratio and to best identify and interpret cortical responses. This review considers these issues, recent data, and future directions for using fNIRS as a tool to understand spoken language processing in children and adults who hear through a cochlear implant.

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