The objective of this study was to present aspects of the current treatment protocol, such as patient evaluation and selection for therapy, multimodality monitoring for optimal auditory brainstem implant (ABI) positioning and radiological evaluation, that might have an impact on the functional results of ABI.
Out of a series of 145 patients with bilateral vestibular schwannomas 10 patients received an ABI, eight of which are reported here. Patient selection was based on disease course, clinical and radiological criteria (according to the Hannover evaluation and prognosis scaling of neurofibromatosis type 2 (NF2)), extensive otological test battery and psycho-social factors. ABI placement was controlled by multimodality electrophysiological monitoring in order to activate the auditory pathway and to prevent false stimulation of the cranial nerve nuclei or long sensory or motor tracts. Results of hearing function were correlated with patients’ ages, duration of deafness, tumour extension, tumour-induced compression or deformation of the brainstem, and numbers of activated electrodes without any side-effects.
Out of 59 patients with pre-operative deafness eight patients received an ABI of the Nucleus 22 type. All these patients became continuous users without any side effects and experienced improved quality of life. Speech reception in combination with lip-reading was markedly improved, with further improvement over a long period. A short duration of deafness may be favourable for achieving good results, while age was not a relevant factor. Lateral recess obstruction may necessitate a more meticulous dissection, but did not prevent good placement of the ABI in the lateral recess. Pre-existing brainstem compression did not prevent good results, but brainstem deformation and ipsi- and contralateral distortion were followed by a less favourable outcome.
Among the factors that can be influenced by the therapy management are the selection of patients with a slow progressing NF2 disease, a short duration of deafness, a careful analysis of brainstem deformation and consideration of either side for implantation. Long-standing brainstem deformation might not lead to recovery, but instead lead to a low number of active electrodes and possibly only moderate results.
ABI treatment is a safe procedure that can increase a patient’s quality of life considerably. ABI placement along with neurophysiological control helps to prevent side effects and to improve acoustic activation. Further studies on structural and functional changes of the brainstem after previous tumour compression and distortion should increase our understanding and facilitate a decision on the best side for ABI implantation.