Every few months or so an individual with modest hearing impairment asks my professional opinion if they would “qualify” for the cochlear implant surgery they have heard about which has helped profoundly hearing impaired or persons deaf hear better.
Initially, I am usually taken aback by this question, mostly I guess, because I view surgery as a “last resort”. I would never even consider undergoing a medically invasive procedure unless all other less drastic options failed and my health was in serious jeopardy. But in retrospect, that is a bit unfair to the person who asked me the question.
Even though I work with hearing impaired persons and see firsthand the effects hearing loss can have on the quality of one’s life, I have good hearing and don’t experience the effects of hearing impairment. Secondly, I have 4 years of advanced training and education in hearing healthcare along with 14 years experience in the field of audiology, and thus know firsthand what a cochlear implant is and who benefits from it.
What is a Cochlear Implant?
So what is a cochlear implant? Described here simplistically and in general terms, it is an electronic medical device, a probe actually, that is inserted deep into the skull using a surgical drill, that stimulates the tiny hearing receptors in the hearing organ called the cochlea. The probe communicates with a magnet that is anchored to the inside of the head. That magnet communicates with another magnet resting on the outside of the head which then connects to a fairly large Behind-The-Ear hearing aid that captures sound and transfers it through the magnets to the electrode where sound is processed along the hearing nerve to be interpreted by the brain (a video and more complete description of this process can be found at the following link from Cochlear, one of the manufacturer’s of a cochlear implant (CLICK HERE).
Who Benefits from a Cochlear Implant?
Cochlear implants were first designed in the early 1980’s and initially were only given FDA approval for profoundly/deafened hearing impaired persons. The technology has flourished since then and continues to improve. However, due to the invasiveness of the surgery and the limitations of the technology, cochlear implants will only help those who:
- Have severe to profound hearing loss in both ears
- Receive little to no benefit from hearing aids based on a battery of hearing evaluations by hearing healthcare professional
- Score poorly on word testing in both ears with hearing devices
- Meet other specific medical criteria regarding candidacy for the implant process
Like any medical treatment, the benefit from a cochlear implant is different for different individuals. If the surgery is not successful, the inner ear is essentially “dead” and the individual is left with no hearing, which is why candidacy is so selective.
According to the NIDCD, as of 2012, approximately 324,000 persons worldwide have received cochlear implants. In the United States, approximately 58,000 adults and 38,000 children have received them.
To learn more about cochlear implants, please click on the links below: