The objective of this study was to assess the influence of postponing the first post-activation follow-up due to the COVID-19 pandemic on the aided sound field detection thresholds and speech recognition of cochlear implant (CI) users.
A retrospective review was performed at a tertiary referral center. Two groups of adult CI recipients were evaluated: (1) patients whose first post-activation follow-up was postponed due to COVID-19 closures (postponed group; n = 10) and (2) a control group that attended recommended post-activation follow-ups prior to the COVID-19 pandemic (control group; n = 18). For both groups, electric thresholds were estimated at initial activation based on comfort levels and were measured behaviorally at subsequent post-activation follow-ups. For the control group, behavioral thresholds were measured at the 1-month follow-up. For the postponed group, behavioral thresholds were not measured until 3 months post-activation since the 1-month follow-up was postponed. The aided pure-tone average (PTA) and word recognition results were compared between groups at the 3-month follow-up and at an interim visit 2–9 weeks later.
At the 3-month follow-up, the postponed group had significantly poorer word recognition (23 vs. 42%, p = 0.027) and aided PTA (42 vs. 37 dB HL, p = 0.041) than the control group. No significant differences were observed between 3-month data from the control group and interim data from the postponed group.
The postponed follow-up after CI activation was associated with poorer outcomes, both in terms of speech recognition and aided audibility. However, these detrimental effects were reversed following provision of an individualized map, with behaviorally measured electric threshold and comfort levels. While adult CI recipients demonstrate an improvement in speech recognition with estimated electric thresholds, the present results suggest that behavioral mapping within the initial weeks of device use may support optimal outcomes.