Cochlear implants are small electronic devices that can help a person who is very hard of hearing or deaf hear sounds. The implant is made of two portions, one sits outside the ear and another that is placed inside of the skin. The implant has several parts. These parts include:
- Microphone: to help pick up sounds from outside.
- Speech processor: arranges the sounds that are being picked up.
- Transmitter and Reciever: receives signals from the processor and then converts the signals into an electric impulse.
- Electrode array: collects impulses and sends these impulses to different areas of the auditory nerves.
Implants will not restore hearing but can provide a deaf person with a representation of sounds from their surrounding environment to help them better understand speech.
How Cochlear Implants Work
Hearing aids and cochlear implants are very different. Hearing aids are designed to amplify sounds so that damaged ears can detect the sounds. A cochlear implant will bypass any area of the ear that is damaged and stimulate the auditory nerves. The signals created by the implants are then sent from the auditory nerves to the brain.
The brain recognizes these signals as sounds. Hearing through the use of the implant is different from regular hearing and a person will need time to learn how to hear in this manner. These implants will help most people recognize warning signals, understand some sounds of their environment, and can help them understand a person’s speech.
Who Qualifies for Cochlear Implants?
Adults and children who are very hard of hearing or deaf might be fitted with cochlear implants. This type of implant was first approved during the mid-1980s as a way to help treat hearing loss. As of the year 2000, cochlear implants have been approved for children and adults starting as young as one year.
In children who are born deaf or extremely hard of hearing, having cochlear implants while they are still young can expose the child to sounds during a time in their life that is optimal for developing language and speech skills. Research shows that children who have these implants and also receive therapy before they are 18 months of age, can comprehend sound, music, speak, and hear better than peers who get implants at an older age. In fact, children who have the implants before 18 months develop language skills that are similar to children who have normal hearing and often can succeed in a regular classroom.
Adults who lose most or all of their hearing late in life benefit from these cochlear implants as well. It is found that adults can learn how to associate the signals that come from the implants into sounds that they remember. This includes speech. They often do not need visual cues for this.
Getting Cochlear Implants
Using a cochlear implant will require the child or adult to undergo a surgical procedure. Once the implants are in place, the child or adult will need therapy in order to learn or to relearn how to hear things. Not everyone who gets a cochlear implant will perform the same using this device. To make a decision about whether or not the cochlear implant is the right choice, conversations with medical specialists will be necessary. It is also important to speak with a surgeon who is experienced in these types of implants.
The cost of these implants can be quite high. Some health insurance will cover some of the expense, but not always. While the process is typically safe, as with any surgery there are some risks. The decision to get these implants is a personal one as there is learning involved.