Living in Rochester most of us have seen at least one person walking around with a cochlear implant. They are suitable for people of all ages and gender, not just children or young adults. Children as young as twelve months of age can be implanted as well as people well into their nineties. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, as of December 2010, approximately 219,000 people worldwide have received cochlear implants. In the U.S. roughly 42,600 adults and 28,400 children have received them.
What is a cochlear implant?
A cochlear (koe-klee-er) implant is a device that provides direct electrical stimulation to the auditory (hearing) nerve in the inner ear.
A cochlear implant is appropriate for people who have a bilateral severe to profound sensorineural hearing loss who get very little benefit from hearing aid(s). A cochlear implant consists of both external and internal components. The external parts consist of a coil, and a speech processor which is worn behind-the-ear. Externally, sound is picked up by the microphone of the speech processor. The speech processor analyzes and codes sound into a pattern of digital information. This information is sent to the coil which attaches to the side of the head via a magnet. The information is transmitted across the skin to the internal portion of the implant. The internal parts – which are surgically implanted – consist of a magnet/receiver and an electrode array which is implanted in the cochlea. The implant interprets the code and sends electrical pulses to the electrode array that is implanted in the cochlea. The auditory nerve picks up these signals and sends them to the brain.
If I get a cochlear implant will I be able to hear and understand conversation?
A cochlear implant does not restore hearing to normal nor is it a cure for hearing loss. Hearing through a cochlear implant is very different from normal hearing or hearing through a hearing aid. It takes the brain time to learn how to hear and process what it hears through a cochlear implant. An implant will give a patient a better perception of sound but there is no way to predict success from an implant. Factors such as the age at which you receive an implant, whether you are pre-lingually or post-lingually deafened, the onset of hearing loss, whether the hearing loss is progressive or sudden, and motivation all play a role in how well a patient will perform with an implant.
If you think a cochlear implant is right for you
At URMC we have a cochlear implant team which consists of ENT physicians, audiologists, a nurse, and a psychologist. Patients interested in a cochlear implant would meet with an ENT physician to medically determine candidacy and would then meet with an audiologist for audiological testing. It is the team’s responsibility to determine candidacy and to make sure the patient has appropriate motivation and realistic expectations. It is very important that the team helps to ensure that the patient have realistic expectations and completely understand the cochlear implant process.
A request is made to the patient’s insurance once candidacy is determined. Once insurance approval is obtained the patient is scheduled for surgery. The surgery is most often done on an outpatient basis. This is where the surgeon implants the internal components. The patient is scheduled to see the audiologist for his/her initial mapping (turning on the implant) four to six weeks after the surgery. Several follow-up appointments are required after the initial mapping.
If you think you may be a candidate for a cochlear implant or would like more information please contact URMC Audiology at (585) 758-5700.
Christina Andrea Babian, Au.D., has been at URMC Audiology since 2007, providing diagnostic and rehabilitative audiology services to patients of all ages. She specializes in tinnitus retraining therapy, adult and pediatric amplification, bone anchored hearing aid candidacy and programming, as well as cochlear implant candidacy and mapping.