There are a number of options when it comes to the management of hearing loss. Most common is the fitting of hearing aids, and where hearing aids are no longer suitable, a patient may receive a cochlear implant. But, what is a Cochlear Implant? How does it work, and who is a candidate?
What is a Cochlear Implant?
A Cochlear Implant (CI) is a system designed to stimulate the auditory nerve where the hair cells of the cochlea are failing to do so. The CI consists of an array of electrodes that are surgically inserted into the cochlea, which are connected to a magnet under the skin of the head. A processor sits either on the ear or on the head, attached by another magnet. The sound is picked up by the processer, turned into an electrical signal, and sent via the magnet to the electrodes. The electrodes in the implant stimulate the cochlear nerve, sending the message of sound to the brain.
Who should get a Cochlear Implant?
A CI is an option for those that do not receive enough benefit from hearing aids. In the past these systems were only used for those people with such severe to profound hearing loss that traditional hearing aids could not provide enough amplification. However, these days the candidacy requirements have become wider. A CI can be fitted on someone with better thresholds but poor speech discrimination abilities, or on someone with normal low frequency hearing and a steep slope into severe high frequency loss. Cochlear Implants can be done at any age, and are even done on newborns if they are diagnosed with profound hearing loss early enough. Click here for a comprehensive list of candidacy requirements for Cochlear Implant.
What is the process?
Difficulty with hearing aids should be discussed with your audiologist who will recommended referral for a Cochlear Implant evaluation if it’s appropriate. Candidates undergo extensive audiological and medical assessments before a team of professionals determine whether they may receive a CI. If you are a candidate and meet the criteria, the implant is surgically implanted and then allowed to heal. Once healed, the implant is ‘switched on’ and ‘mapped’ for the individual. From there the patient’s journey with their Cochlear Implant begins. Aural rehabilitation and training is required to help the patient learn how to hear with the CI. Individuals also often need assistive devices to get the most out of their implant.
A Cochlear Implant is not for everyone- however, for those people who meet the criteria, it can be a life-changing procedure. A CI can give someone with little to no hearing access to sound again, and with the right rehabilitation and assistive devices, that person can learn to hear and cope in a normal hearing world. A child with profound hearing loss who is implanted early enough can develop speech and language and go on to live a normal life. As with all hearing loss management, early intervention is key to ensure the best possible outcome.
If you would like more information, or if you think you may be a candidate for a Cochlear Implant, speak to your audiologist, or contact us.