What are Cochlear Implants?
You’ve heard a lot about Cochlear Implants and the wonders they can do for people that are hard of hearing. Now you’re wondering if they are the right choice for you, too? This short guide discusses what Cochlear Implants are and how they work. We’ll also take a look at the pros and cons of Cochlear Implants and discuss who they’re best suited for, to help you make an educated decision.
Cochlear Implants are small electronic medical devices that can significantly improve moderate to profound hearing loss. Some people believe that Cochlear Implants are a type of hearing aid, which is a common misconception. Think about Cochlear Implants more as a snail-shaped, sophisticated mini-computer.
If you suffer from moderate to profound hearing loss in one or both ears, Cochlear Implants can open up the world of sound to you. Cochlear Implants can be inserted in one ear or both. The latter greatly improves the ability to locate sounds and understand speech, even for those who are deaf on both ears.
Yet, Cochlear Implants are not for everyone in the hearing loss community. Whether they’re right for you or not, is ultimately a choice you have to make based on the value Cochlear Implants have to you. To make an informed decision, you need to know the ins and outs of Cochlear Implants, consider the level and impact of your hearing loss, as well as your financial and personal health situation.
How do Cochlear Implants work?
Cochlear Implants allow implantees to communicate with others as a normal person would. They are used to help those suffering from hearing loss across the whole community; including adults, young children, and even babies. But how do they manage to do this?
Simply put, the external and internal components of a Cochlear Implant electrically stimulate the auditory nerve to send sound signals to the brain. The brain then receives and translates these signals into recognisable sounds. Sounds straightforward, doesn’t it? Let’s take a closer look at the mechanics. A Cochlear Implant is made up of two parts, an external component and an internal part.
The external component is placed behind the ear.
It consists of a microphone, which receives sound waves. A speech processor analyzes the sounds and turns them into digital signals. These signals are sent to a transmitter, which forwards them to the internal receiver. The external transmitter and internal receiver are held together by a magnet through the skin of the head.
The internal portion is implanted beneath the skin behind the ear.
When the receiver gets the digital signals, it turns them into electrical impulses. These impulses are sent to electrodes in the cochlea, which stimulates the auditory nerve. The auditory nerve forwards the electrical signals to the brain. The result is a sense of hearing, That is to say, that the brain will note the sounds, however, they’re not the same as normal hearing. Through auditory training, an implantee will learn to recognise the sounds as words, sentences, and specific environmental sounds.
Did you know that Cochlear is an Australian based company? The medical device company that designs, manufactures and supplies various hearing products was founded in Sydney in 1981. Helping people to hear and be heard, their Cochlear Implants empower those suffering from hearing loss to connect with others and live a full life. Cochlear has a global workforce of 3,500 people and invests more than AUD 160 million a year in research and development.
Who’s best suited for Cochlear Implants?
A Cochlear Implant is best suited for those with severe to profound hearing loss, especially for people having to deal with on-going, chronic sensorineural hearing loss caused by damage to the structures in the inner ear.
This type of hearing loss usually occurs in both ears. Less often, viral infections can cause single-sided deafness (SSD). For people that are dependent on lip reading and unable to get any benefit from hearing aids, Cochlear Implants may be the best hearing option. Provided they are willing to commit to the auditory training after receiving the implant and understand what Cochlear Implants can and can’t do.
Cochlear Implants: The Benefits
Cochlear Implant surgery has its positive and negative sides. A Cochlear Implant is best suited for those with severe to profound hearing loss, and can significantly improve a person’s quality of life, well-being and happiness.
With a Cochlear Implant you may be able to:
- Pick up on different types of sounds, including soft, medium, and loud ones
- Hear voices on the phone
- Have an improved ability to hear speech without needing visual cues such as reading lips
- Recognise normal, everyday environmental sounds e.g. footsteps
- Be able to listen in a noisy environment and follow some conversation
- Watch TV without captions
- Listen to music better than before although it may sound different to normal
- Make communication and social interaction with family, friends and colleagues easier
- Enjoy the real possibility of experiencing sound when before it was impossible
- Feel once again socially included in your community
- Have better control over your own voice volume
Cochlear Implants record outstanding figures in regards to malfunctions. According to a report from January 2020, only 7 per cent of all implants fail, which translates into very high rates of successful implants. Cochlear Implant surgery usually lasts from 1-2 hours with an overnight stay in hospital.
The Disadvantages of Cochlear Implants
Getting a Cochlear Implant may not be suitable for everyone. It involves invasive surgery and committing to months of auditory training assisted by your Audiologist post-surgery in order to achieve the best outcome. Be aware, a Cochlear Implant does not sound like natural speech when it is first turned on and doesn’t restore normal hearing.
Cochlear Implant surgery is a generally safe procedure. However, as every surgery does, it presents potential risks, such as bleeding, swelling, ringing in the ear (tinnitus), dizziness, and possible infection. The external sound processor may be expensive to upgrade in the future if you don’t have coverage e.g. health fund. There are ongoing costs for life which include batteries, maintenance, spare parts, repairs, replacements, insurance, and regular audiology appointments.
Cochlear Implant Financing Options
There are multiple avenues of funding a Cochlear Implant. These include private health funds – depending on what level of cover you have. Veterans can apply to the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) if they hold a Gold Card or a White Card and may get cover for all costs deemed medically necessary to help them hear again.
If you’re self-financing, make sure to discuss with your Implant Surgeon and Implant Audiologist what costs you will have to cover. The Australian State Government offers a limited amount of public funding, with waiting lists of typically twelve months or more. Your Audiologist can help you navigate these funding options and discuss your eligibility for the different avenues. If you have any questions in regards to your options, don’t hesitate to contact us.
Recognising Hearing Loss and Taking Action
A Cochlear Implant doesn’t make a person hear normally again. However, many researchers recognise that Cochlear Implants:
- Allow deaf people to receive and process sounds and speech.
- Can help recipients with the sounds in their immediate environment; including telephones, doors, and alarms.
- Allow people to pick up on speech in noisy places better than they did with hearing aids.
To many, the value of getting a Cochlear Implant outweighs the cons of not having one. It remains undeniable that Cochlear Implants do make positive contributions to the lives of many people who suffer from severe hearing loss. If you know you have a severe to profound hearing loss and are struggling with everyday communications, act quickly and make an appointment with your local Audiologist.
To find out now if you need an implant, take our quick 2-minute test!