Do Cochlear Implants Give Implantees Normal Hearing Abilities? - Attune
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Do Cochlear Implants Give Implantees Normal Hearing Abilities?

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When deciding on what type of hearing solution to help you hear better, one of the most commonly asked questions is “will cochlear implants give me normal hearing abilities?” An initial response to this question is no, then yes, or maybe. To understand the answer to this question we must first understand what normal hearing is and who decides whether implantees have normal hearing abilities – the person with the cochlear implant, the audiologist, or others? 

So, What Is Normal Hearing? 

The definition of normal hearing is very clear, although there are many explanations of what “feels” normal to people. The threshold for normal hearing is the ability to hear pure tone frequencies between 0 and 25 decibels. Zero decibels is zero because it is considered to be average human hearing. 

Normal hearing results include:

  • The ability to hear a whisper, normal speech, and a ticking watch.
  • The ability to make out sounds as faint as human breathing, which measures around 10 decibels.
  • The ability to hear a tuning fork through air and bone.
  • In detailed audiometry, hearing is normal if you can hear tones from 250-8,000Hz at 25dB or lower.

What Are The Signs of Losing Your Hearing?

Do you have:

  • A problem hearing over the phone?
  • Trouble following the conversation when two or more people are talking at the same time?
  • People complaining that you turn the TV volume up too high?
  • To strain to understand a conversation?
  • Trouble hearing in a noisy environment?
  • To ask people to repeat themselves constantly?
  • Trouble understanding the speech of women and children?
  • People getting annoyed because you misunderstand what they say?

If you answered yes to two or more, then the chances are that you do not have normal hearing. Not having normal hearing and experiencing hearing loss to a significant degree will be a reason that a person gets a cochlear implant. 

What Is a Cochlear Implant? 

how your cochlear implant works

A cochlear implant is a small device that is surgically implanted behind a person’s ear/s. The implant helps you communicate better with an external sound processor worn on the head just behind the top of the ear and held in place magnetically. 

The cochlear implant stimulates the auditory nerve to provide the sensation of sound for those who are deaf or severely hard of hearing. It does this by capturing sound through the external speech processor and converting it into digital sounds, then sending those signals to the internal implant. When the internal receiver gets the digital signals, it then turns them into electrical impulses. The electrical impulses get sent to electrodes in the cochlea, which stimulate the auditory nerve and send the electrical signals to the brain. The result is a sense of hearing, though the brain will notice the sounds, they’re not the same as normal hearing. 

Auditory rehabilitation is necessary to learn how to properly interpret these sounds and give them meaning. Increasingly, cochlear implants in both ears (bilateral) are accepted as standard care for the treatment of severe hearing loss – particularly for infants and children who are learning to speak and process language. 

Do Cochlear Implants Give Implantees Normal Hearing Abilities? 

Cochlear implants let a person sense sound that they couldn’t hear otherwise and better understand speech in a way that to them becomes their new “normal”. Post-surgery, hearing thresholds can be returned to normal (0-25 decibels), or some frequencies may show only a mild hearing loss compared to pre-implants with significantly decreased hearing thresholds.

After undergoing cochlear implant surgery, most people show near normal ability to understand speech. This is assessed by the audiologist using a range of aided speech tests looking at an ability to correctly repeat words (in quiet) and sentences (in noise and quiet) in a clinic soundfield. 

An adult implantee will often show benefit immediately and continue to improve over the first three months and beyond in understanding speech. A child may improve at a slower rate with more auditory training required to help the child use the new hearing if they did not learn any speech or language prior to their hearing loss. 

Most implantees are able to perceive loud, medium, and soft sounds as normal hearing people do. This means they can hear sounds such as footsteps, door banging, kettle whistling, and rustling of leaves. 

Who Decides Whether Implantees Have Normal Hearing Abilities? 

grandma with girl

Research has shown that cochlear implants don’t make people hear normally again, but it can help them with sounds and enhance their quality of life and wellbeing. 

Some websites offer a simulation of hearing with a cochlear implant and compare it with a hearing aid simulation to show the difference in sound perception. However, it has been said that an implantee will adapt their individual brain to what they hear and normalise that sound. An implantee’s perception of normal will vary from person to person as a reflection of their different experiences and expectations. 

It is clear to see that cochlear implants do make positive changes to the lives of many people who suffer severe hearing loss as nearly 740,000 devices have been registered worldwide. Whether cochlear implants give implantees “normal” hearing abilities or a different version of “normal” doesn’t stop people from choosing to undergo cochlear implant surgery. 

To Sum It Up 

While there is still some talk about whether cochlear implants give a person normal hearing abilities compared to a person without hearing loss, it does give them access to a range of sounds and the ability to understand speech and participate in conversations again. 

If you are thinking about getting cochlear implants or would like to learn more about preparing for cochlear implant surgery, talk to the team at Attune or book an appointment to talk to one of our audiologists in person. 

Enquire now