Witnessing someone who has recently received a cochlear implant hear a loved one’s voice for the first time is touching, emotional and transformative — it’s no wonder these videos so often go viral online.
A cochlear implant is a small electronic device that can help someone who is deaf or severely hard-of-hearing receive and process a sense of sound. It is comprised of two parts — one that sits behind the ear and another that is surgically implanted.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), cochlear implants, unlike hearing aids, do not simply amplify sounds. The implants bypass damaged hair cells in the cochlea and directly stimulate the auditory nerve. The nerve sends signals to the brain, which then recognizes the signals as sound.
“The ‘doors’ have to be open for sounds to reach the brain,” says Dr. Robert Dusa, a clinical audiologist with Sharp Rees-Stealy Audiology and Hearing Services. “Occasionally, hearing impairment, if temporary, can be repaired via surgery. However, if there is severe hearing loss in both ears due to damaged portions of the inner ear and hearing aids are not effective, cochlear implants may be an option.”
Since the end of 2012, approximately 60,000 cochlear implants have been implanted in adults, and roughly 40,000 in children over the age of 12 months. The NIH reports that children who receive a cochlear implant and intensive therapy before they turn 18 months old are better able to hear, comprehend sounds and music, and speak than children who receive the implants when they are older. Children who get implants early also develop language skills and succeed in mainstream classrooms at rates similar to their peers with normal hearing.
Adults who are severely hearing impaired or those who have lost most of their hearing can also benefit from cochlear implants. Although the implant does not restore hearing, it does allow the recipient to receive and recognize sounds and, in the case of those who could hear earlier in life, associate them with sounds they may remember.
Dr. Dusa stresses how important it is that adults or parents of children who are considering cochlear implants understand that the process takes a lot of time, patience and effort. A team of professionals may be involved both before the implant surgery and after, including a primary care provider, otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat doctor), audiologist and speech-language pathologist, along with teachers and social service representatives.
Once the cochlear implant is placed, a patient must receive significant therapy to learn — or relearn — how to sense and process sounds. A coordinated care team can help recipients and their families understand how to improve the long-term outcomes for a child or adult with cochlear implants.
“The success someone might have with cochlear implants — especially a child — is dependent on the patient and family and the support they need after the implant is received,” Dr. Dusa says. “Everyone must be actively involved in making the decision to receive a cochlear implant, and in post-surgery therapy and rehabilitation.”
If you have concerns about your own hearing or the hearing of a loved one, talk to your doctor or contact Sharp Rees-Stealy Audiology and Hearing Services.