FUNDAMENTALS OF COCHLEAR IMPLANTS
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Getting a cochlear implant (or implants!) can be a life-changing experience!
This is a basic overview of Cochlear Implants and can provide basic understanding and resources. If you or someone you know can no longer hear with the assistance of hearing aids, a cochlear implant may be the answer. If you have any questions, be certain to set up the appointment with an audiologist today! Do not delay, get all the facts possible to assist in determining whether a cochlear implant is the answer.
The cochlear implant journey varies from person to person. Many factors determine the potential benefit from cochlear implant(s), CI(s), such as when the hearing loss first began, the cause of the hearing loss, overall health and the ability to complete homework and practice to learn how to hear again after an implant.
If you or someone you know has lost their hearing suddenly or overtime, or have found wearing hearing aids and other assistive listening devices are no longer working like they once did, a CI may be the answer. But again, not all people are candidates so the first step is to talk to an audiologist about the cochlear implant evaluation.
What is a cochlear implant?
A cochlear implant is a small, complex electronic device that can help to provide a sense of sound to a person who is profoundly deaf or severely hard-of-hearing. The implant consists of an external portion that sits behind the ear and a second portion that is surgically placed under the skin (see figure). An implant has the following parts:
- A microphone, which picks up sound from the environment.
- A speech processor, which selects and arranges sounds picked up by the microphone.
- A transmitter and receiver/stimulator, which receive signals from the speech processor and convert them into electric impulses.
- An electrode array, which is a group of electrodes that collects the impulses from the stimulator and sends them to different regions of the auditory nerve.
An implant does not restore normal hearing. Instead, it can give a deaf person a useful representation of sounds in the environment and help him or her to understand speech. With the recent upgrades in technology, the ability to truly hear has grown by leaps and bounds and great progress has been made to provide the option to hear complex sounds, like music. 😊
How does a cochlear implant work?
A cochlear implant is very different from a hearing aid. Hearing aids amplify sounds so they may be detected by damaged ears. Cochlear implants bypass damaged portions of the ear and directly stimulate the auditory nerve. Signals generated by the implant are sent by way of the auditory nerve to the brain, which recognizes the signals as sound. Hearing through a cochlear implant is different from normal hearing and takes time to learn or relearn. But it has proven to be rewarding for many from simply recognize warning signals, understand other sounds in the environment, to understanding speech in person or over the telephone or in public settings. It is recommended to converse with others who have been implanted and observe first hand how the Cochlear Implant is helping so many individuals of all ages today.
Who gets cochlear implants?
Children and adults who are deaf or severely hard-of-hearing can be fitted for cochlear implants. The FDA first approved cochlear implants in the mid-1980s to treat hearing loss in adults. Since 2000, cochlear implants have been FDA-approved for use in eligible children beginning at 12 months of age. For young children who are deaf or severely hard-of-hearing, using a cochlear implant while they are young exposes them to sounds during an optimal period to develop speech and language skills. Research has shown that when these children receive a cochlear implant followed by intensive therapy before they are 18 months old, they are better able to hear, comprehend sound and music, and speak than their peers who receive implants when they are older. Studies have also shown that eligible children who receive a cochlear implant before 18 months of age develop language skills at a rate comparable to children with normal hearing, and many succeed in mainstream classrooms. It is always recommended to utilize alternate means to communicate such as sign language and assistive listening devices.
Adults who have lost all or most of their hearing later in life can also benefit from cochlear implants. They learn to associate the signals from the implant with sounds they remember, including speech. It has opened doors for those who lost their hearing to be reintroduced to sounds and communication. For many, this opens many doors to connect with individuals who can hear, to understand what is being said in restaurants, religious affiliations, at work and home and/or while traveling. The gift to hear, again.
Cochlear implant companies presently approved by the FDA as of 2020:
How does someone receive a cochlear implant?
Use of a cochlear implant requires both a surgical procedure and significant therapy to learn or relearn the sense of hearing. Not everyone performs at the same level with this device. The decision to receive an implant should involve discussions with medical specialists, including an experienced cochlear-implant surgeon. Cost is a consideration as a person’s health insurance may cover the expense, but not always. Cochlear Implant representatives can help with the insurance questions for those who have made the choice to move forward with a Cochlear Implant. Surgical implantations are almost always safe, although complications are a risk factor, just as with any kind of surgery. An additional consideration is learning to interpret the sounds created by an implant. This process takes time and practice. The more practice with learning how to hear again, the better the results can be. Speech-language pathologists and audiologists are frequently involved in this learning process.
What does the future hold for cochlear implants?
Scientists are exploring whether using a shortened electrode array, inserted into a portion of the cochlea, for example, can help individuals whose hearing loss is limited to the higher frequencies while preserving their hearing of lower frequency. Ongoing research has provided the ability for Cochlear Implants to process complex sounds like music and the ability to stream phone, music, internet material directly to the Cochlear Implant. The research and development under each of the three FDA approved Cochlear Implant manufacturers are ongoing with technological advancements. Due to the competitive nature of the business, future technology is usually kept quiet until a formal public announcement can be made.
Obtained from: NIDCD located at: 1 Communication Avenue Bethesda, MD 20892-3456
NIH Publication No. 00-4798
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