Hearing aid or Cochlear implant - Which one is better?
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What is the Difference Between Hearing Aids and Cochlear Implants?

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If you found your way here, you or a loved one have most likely been diagnosed with a hearing loss and are now looking into treatment options. To set you up for success, we’re focussing today’s article on the differences between hearing aids and Cochlear implants. Let this be where the journey to better hearing begins!

The news of a hearing loss often comes as a shock. At Attune Hearing, we believe it doesn’t have to: Between modern hearing aids and Cochlear implants, your biggest challenge should be picking from a wealth of possible hearing solutions. But don’t fret: Our team of friendly, highly educated audiologists is here to help you find a hearing device that suits your every need!

But what is the difference between hearing aids and Cochlear implants? And what option will serve you best? We’ve created a comprehensive guide to educate you on your options! We’ll start with hearing aids before we explore whether a Cochlear implant might be the right choice for you.

Is it time to get a hearing test?

Haven’t had a chance to test your hearing yet? Your GP is often the first stopping point on your journey to better hearing. They can refer you to a local audiologist, who will undertake a comprehensive hearing assessment and provide you with a diagnosis. 

If you experience any degree of hearing loss or communication difficulty, or if you have difficulty in any of the following, don’t hesitate to schedule a hearing test:

  • If you have completed an online hearing test, which indicated hearing loss or further investigation
  • Not hearing well in background noise 
  • Family and friends constantly repeating themselves, to the point of annoyance 
  • Frequently increasing the volume control on the TV remote control device 
  • Sounds like people are mumbling 
  • Ringing in one or both ears (referred to as Tinnitus) 

hearing aids

Hearing Aids: The Ins And Outs 

What are hearing aids? 

Hearing aids are small devices worn in or behind the ear that help users hear better. They are removable and are used to amplify sound for people with residual hearing. They are equipped with sophisticated digital technology that allows the user to customise their hearing experience. In the last ten years, the hearing aid market has been rapidly increasing in technological ability and capacity. 

Hearing aids come in a wide range of prices depending on factors such as the complexity of their features and size. Your audiologist can show you the different hearing aid styles available and also arrange for you to try some hearing aids prior to any purchase or commitment.

The different hearing aid styles 

There are a number of hearing aid styles to suit every hearing loss and lifestyle:

  • Receiver in the canal – RIC
  • Micro Behind the ear – Mini BTE
  • Behind the ear  – BTE
  • In the ear / in the canal – ITE / ITC
  • Completely in the ear canal – CIC and Micro CIC
  • Lyric – like a contact lens for the ear 

Their features are very similar, but some have additional advantages: They’re easier to manage, cosmetically more appealing, Bluetooth enabled or may come with rechargeable batteries. All this depends on the product manufacturers and of course, affects the pricing of the device. Your audiologist will be able to help you find the product that would be best for you.

cost of hearing aids

The cost of hearing aids

The cost of hearing aids varies depending on the manufacturer, level of technology, features, and where you purchase them from. Prices start at $3.000. For a top of the range model, you can expect to pay up to $10,000 for a pair. Keep in mind that hearing aids need to be upgraded every three to five years. 

Before you commit, consider what is included in the price. For example, does the provider offer you a warranty and follow up care? These could otherwise be extra ongoing costs to you. Your audiologist will assist you in learning more about the types of product that suit your needs, any inclusions, and relevant pricing. 

Financing hearing aids

You may be eligible for fully subsidised hearing services and subsidised hearing aids through the government system called Hearing Services Program HSP. If you are in a health fund then you may be able to get some rebate towards the cost of hearing aids. Please check with your relevant health fund or ask your audiologist.

Hearing aids: What are the advantages?

Hearing aids have many benefits, these include: 

  • Hearing aids come in a wide price range and cost much less than Cochlear implants
  • Hearing aids allow people to hear sounds with immediate speech recognition
  • The digital nature of modern hearing aids allows for a highly customisable experience
  • Natural sound quality and auto-adjusts for different listening environments

cochlear implants

An Introduction to Cochlear Implants

What is a cochlear implant?

A cochlear implant is a small electronic device that helps those with hearing loss. Like a hearing aid, cochlear implants cannot restore normal hearing, but they can restore some hearing capabilities to people who have severe to profound hearing loss. 

Cochlear implants differ from hearing aids in that they are surgically placed under the skin behind the ear hence the term “implant”. Cochlear implants turn sound vibrations into electrical signals that travel along the auditory nerve. The brain receives and translates these signals into recognisable sounds.  

Over 500,000 people worldwide have had highly successful cochlear implants. Cochlear implants are a highly advanced technology that allows those with little to no hearing to experience sounds again and improve their day to day communication with friends and family.

An Australian invention that changed the world 

In 1982, Melbourne-based Professor Grahame Clark produced the world’s first multichannel Cochlear implant for Cochlear, a company founded earlier in 1981 in Sydney. 

Cochlear now has a global workforce of approximately 3.500 people and demonstrates its commitment to producing hearing products and services by investing $160 million a year in research and development. Whilst there are other companies such as MEDEL and Advanced Bionics who also manufacture Cochlear implants, the Australian Cochlear Ltd remains the dominant force in the global market. 

Am I a good candidate for a Cochlear implant?

For many people, a Cochlear implant can be the appropriate choice, including those affected by:

  • Meniere’s disease 

People with Meniere’s can suffer from a significant hearing loss and struggle with speech understanding in everyday life despite well-fitted hearing aids. Meniere’s disease is a disorder that results from an increase in fluid pressure in the inner ear which disrupts the balance and hearing systems. 

Generally, Meniere’s disease occurs in one ear but can affect both ears, too. Typically it occurs in adults in their thirties and older. Meniere’s disease is still poorly understood in relation to the reasons that it occurs. It is not believed to be hereditary. 

  • Single-sided deafness (SSD) 

We speak of single-sided deafness when a person has normal hearing in one ear with the other ear having some degree of hearing loss. Often the degree of hearing loss can be quite significant. 

Having single-sided deafness can make hearing and communication difficult. If you can restore hearing to both ears then that is the natural way of hearing, which gives us a better binaural sound signal for the brain. This may lead to reduced social isolation and improved quality of life. 

  • Severe to profound sensorineural hearing loss

People with sensorineural hearing losses who’ve been diagnosed with severe to profound hearing loss may benefit from a Cochlear implant. Sensorineural hearing loss is when there are damaged hair cells in the cochlea that transmit sound to the auditory nerve. 

Fewer hair cells functioning means less sound information transferred to the auditory nerve, hence hearing loss. A sensorineural hearing loss is permanent as at present we have no way to restore the lost hair cell function.

woman and man on the beach

Can babies and children receive a Cochlear implant? 

Children as young as one year old, who have been born deaf or with severe hearing loss, are eligible for Cochlear implants. Children with Cochlear implants develop language skills almost as quickly as children with normal hearing. The implants help them succeed in the classroom and beyond. Adults also benefit from Cochlear implants, which helps many people who have lost their hearing over time. 

Babies, children, and adults may be good candidates if they: 

  • Lost all or most of hearing later in life
  • Depend on lip reading, even with hearing aids
  • Are willing to commit to rehabilitation
  • Understand what cochlear implants can and can’t do
  • Struggle to hear in one on one conversations even in quiet environments 

What to expect after receiving a Cochlear implant 

Unlike hearing aids, Cochlear implants do not amplify sound. Instead, they channel sound to bypass the damaged parts of the cochlea and directly stimulate the auditory nerve. The implant generates electrical signals that it sends to the auditory nerve, which then passes it onto the auditory part of the brain where they are recognised as sounds. 

A Cochlear implant does not sound like natural speech when it is first turned on. Instead, many adults report that it sounds robotic, unnatural, and difficult to understand. Some people only hear beeps or whistle sounds when the Cochlear implant is initially activated. 

Your audiologist then helps you to give these sounds meaning through auditory rehabilitation training over the weeks and months following your implant surgery. Getting a Cochlear implant is not a suitable solution for everyone. It involves invasive surgery and a commitment post-surgery to months of auditory training to achieve the best outcome. 

The Cost or Funding of a Cochlear implant

On average, you can expect to pay anywhere between $30 000 to $45 000. The variation in price is due to a variety of factors including but not limited to the necessary initial consultations, surgery fees, hospital fees, anaesthetist fees, and whether an implant is required for one or both ears. 

Avenues of funding include private health funds depending on what level of cover you have and  DVA Gold or White cards for hearing loss. The latter may cover all costs deemed medically necessary to help you hear again. If you are self-financing, make sure to discuss what costs you can expect, with your Implant Surgeon and Implant Audiologist. 

The State government also has a limited amount of public funding available, with waiting lists typically 12 months or more. Your audiologist can help you navigate the funding options and discuss your eligibility for the different avenues.

Cochlear implants: The unique advantages 

The benefits of Cochlear implants are manifold. They include: 

  • Cochlear implants are best for those with severe to profound hearing loss
  • An excellent option, when even powerful hearing aids no longer work
  • Communication and social interaction with family and friends become easier 
  • Cochlear implants allow the experience of sound when it was impossible before
  • There are many different avenues for funding a Cochlear implant

Click here to learn more about how a Cochlear implant can improve your life.

wrapping it up

Wrapping it up

Cochlear implants are a good hearing option for many people and make positive contributions to the lives of those who suffer severe to profound hearing loss. So do you need a cochlear implant? If after reading this article you identify with the types of described hearing losses, or the hearing difficulties experienced then it is time to take action. 

The first step is to schedule a diagnostic hearing assessment with a trusted audiologist. The results will give you and your medical team a better understanding of what the best options for you are. Next up, referrals will be made to any medical specialists that are deemed necessary, including your GP and an ENT Implant specialist to help facilitate the process of moving towards better hearing – be it with hearing aids or a cochlear implant. 

Remember that your audiologist is there to assist you on your path, and to provide you with the information need to make this big decision to make in relation to your hearing and finances! If you have concern or questions, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us or schedule a hearing assessment at one of over 50 Attune Hearing clinics Australia wide.

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