What is a cochlear implant?
A cochlear implant is a tiny yet highly-complex electronic device that can help provide a profoundly deaf or severely hard-of-hearing individual with a sense of sound. The implant’s external portion sits behind the ear while another part is surgically placed under the skin.
While a cochlear implant does not restore normal hearing, it can give people with severe to profound hearing loss a helpful representation of sounds in the environment for better speech understanding.
Parts of a cochlear implant
A cochlear implant has three essential parts – a microphone, a speech processor, and a transmitter and receiver/stimulator.
How does a cochlear implant work?
Cochlear implants transmit sounds through an electrode array, a group of electrodes that collects signals and impulses from the stimulator and sends them to various parts of the auditory nerve.
Who gets cochlear implants?
Adults and children who are diagnosed as deaf or severely hard-of-hearing can be a candidate for cochlear implants. In addition, children who receive cochlear implants at younger ages are better able to develop speech and language skills due to increased time to learn and adapt.
Research has shown that when children receive a cochlear implant paired with intensive therapy, they are better able to hear, comprehend music and sound, and speak better than their counterparts when they are older.
Adults who experience progressive hearing loss later in life can also benefit from cochlear implants. The brain is able to associate the new electrical signals from the implant with sounds they remember. This includes recognizing speech without requiring visual cues from sign language or lip-reading.
How does someone receive a cochlear implant?
Getting a cochlear implant requires surgery and effective therapy to learn (or re-learn) the sense of hearing. It’s worth noting that not everyone performs at the same level with cochlear implants. In addition, it may take weeks or months for the brain to adjust to cochlear implants, and the willingness to learn plays a significant role.
Making the decision to receive a cochlear implant requires thorough discussions and consultations with medical specialists, audiologists, and an experienced cochlear-implant surgeon. Getting a cochlear implant may be expensive, but in some cases, an individual’s health insurance can cover the expense. However, this does not apply to all health insurances, so be sure to consult your insurance policy first.
Is getting a cochlear implant safe?
Receiving a cochlear implant is more involved than getting fitted with hearing aids. Cochlear implantation is a surgical procedure, and although surgical implantations are generally safe, it also comes with possible complications.
What happens during cochlear implant surgery?
During the cochlear implant surgery, a surgeon will make an incision behind the ear to form a small hole in the mastoid (skull bone) where the internal part of the cochlear device will rest. The surgeon will then make a small opening in the cochlea to thread the electrode of the internal device. Finally, the incision will be stitched closed, and the cochlear implant will remain under the skin.
What happens after cochlear implant surgery?
Most patients feel well enough to be sent home the day of or a day after the surgery. After the cochlear implant surgery, the following symptoms are expected:
- Pressure or discomfort over the implanted ear
- Nausea or dizziness
Cochlear implants are not activated right away. Instead, recovery time will take two to six weeks post surgery to give the incision site time to heal.
When it’s time to activate the cochlear implant, an audiologist will adjust the sound processor, check the components of the cochlear implant, and determine what sounds a patient hears.
After-care services include education on the proper care and use of the device, in addition to extensive programming of the cochlear implant to ensure that the patient can hear at optimal levels.
Learning to Interpret Sounds
Unlike hearing aids that focus on sound amplification and directionality, cochlear implants work differently by letting the patient learn (or re-learn) how to interpret sounds created. This process takes time and practice, and audiologists and speech-language pathologists must be involved in the learning process.
A candidate should consider these factors before deciding to pursue cochlear implantation.
Cochlear Implants – Audiology and Speech Solutions
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