Hearing loss is a widespread condition that can affect people of all ages, often making it more difficult to carry out daily tasks and activities effectively. Depending on the nature and severity of hearing loss, there are numerous options available to help manage the issue to improve the quality of daily life.
What is a Cochlear Implant?
Typically used for more advanced or profound levels of hearing loss, a cochlear implant is a small, complex electronic device that is designed to mimic natural hearing and to replace deficient functions in the inner ear, also known as the cochlea.
A cochlear implant is made up of an external component that sits behind the ear, and an internal component which is surgically implanted under the skin. It is comprised of 4 main parts:
- Microphone – detects sounds from external environment
- Speech Processor – Selects, organizes, and arranges sounds detected by the mic
- Transmitter and Receiver – receives sounds from the speech processor and converts them into electrical impulses
- Electrode Array – group of electrodes that gathers impulses and passes them along to the relevant region of the auditory nerve
Although cochlear implants do not completely restore hearing, they do provide a helpful representation of external sounds to improve clarity and comprehension.
Hearing Aids vs Cochlear Implants
Hearing aids are designed to amplify sounds which the damaged ear can no longer register. They may focus in on specific frequencies the individual with hearing loss is having trouble detecting.
Cochlear implants do not amplify sounds, but rather bypass the damaged portions of the inner ear to deliver signals to directly stimulate the auditory nerve. These signals are then passed along from the auditory nerve to the brain and the brain then interprets these signals as sounds. These sounds are not perceived in exactly the same way as natural hearing, so an adjustment period is often necessary for the user.
Who are Cochlear Implants Designed for?
Cochlear implants are generally geared towards people of any age who are deaf or have severe hearing loss who would otherwise receive little or no benefit from hearing aids.
Cochlear implants have proven extremely beneficial for very young children with profound hearing loss as they learn to interpret the sounds from the device during their formative years when learning and cognitive abilities develop quite rapidly. The implants are also advantageous for adults with severe hearing loss as they learn to associate signals from the device with the familiar sounds they remember.
Determining Factors for Positive Outcomes with Cochlear Implants
The results of cochlear implants will not be the same for everyone who gets them. The positive benefits of cochlear implants can be life altering for some individuals while others may only experience a minimal improvement.
Some factors that may affect the success of cochlear implants include:
- Severity and longevity of hearing loss
- Age when hearing loss began
- Age at the time of receiving the cochlear implant
- Learning capacity
- Diligence and dedication to becoming accustomed to the device
- Learning support and assistance
- Severity of damage to the cochlea
- Communication and language skill levels
Experiencing positive outcomes from cochlear implants typically depends on how committed the individual is to seeing an improvement. The more time and effort spent learning to interpret signals will most often result in a better understanding in what those signals mean and how they are associated with external sounds.