If you are profoundly deaf or can be considered severely hard of hearing a cochlear implant (also known as a hearing implant) may be your best bet.
And if you are profoundly deaf you may already have discovered that even the most powerful of hearing aids or amplification devices does nothing more than give you a fuzzy sense of sound.
Sounds that may actually be worse than pure silence for all that they only hint of there being more to hear.
An entire world going on just outside of your perception range; a world that is passing you by.
But what exactly are these implants?
And in what situations can they best be used?
Who are the best candidates?
A cochlear implant is a electronic device that is surgically implanted.
These devices give the perception of sound to those who suffer from severe hearing disorders.
You may at some point have heard these implants referred to as bionic ears; a term that brings to mind super heroes and secret government projects to make the perfect soldier.
But in truth, a cochlear implant is quite a common device.
In fact, over 300,000 people worldwide have had them implanted, though the high cost of the procedure makes them prohibitively expensive for many.
One of the phenomenal things about these implants are that they can actually help to restore a sense of sound to those who have suffered hearing loss due to the loss of sensory hair cells in their cochlea in the inner ear.
Previously, this sort of condition was seen as untreatable, these implants enable the person to be able to understand speech in a quiet background, though it does very little for things like musical appreciation or understanding speech in busy or noisy backgrounds.
The procedure is actually fairly simple.
The cochlear implant is slipped into the skin behind the ear where it goes to work with its component parts to create sound.
These parts include external parts (one or more microphones, a speech processor and a transmitter) as well as internal parts (a receiver and a stimulator).
The internal parts are secured tightly in the bone beneath the skin.
It is this part that converts the signals into electric impulses that in turn send them on to electrodes which are wound up through the cochlea in place of the nerve ending hairs.
In order to be considered as a candidate for a cochlear implant, a good bit of screening needs to be done.
The best candidates are those who have profound sensorineural hearing loss in both ears.
- Whose auditory nerve is still functioning.
- Who have been without their hearing for a good bit of time.
- Who have good speech or communication skills already in place.
- Have not had significant success with regular types of hearing devices.
- Do not have any other outstanding medical conditions.
- Have a support system in place and are ready to go through the necessary rehabilitation to make use of their new (or restored) sense.
Those individuals who have moderate or mild sensorineural hearing loss are not usually considered to be good candidates for a cochlear implant as it will not do them a whole lot of good or improve their condition significantly as well as subject them to undue pain and risk.
Even if you meet all the other specifications, however, if you have suffered from a severe damage to the auditory nerve fibers for whatever reason, the implants will be next to worthless since they are not able to receive the electronic signals and relay them to the brain.
One of the downsides to a cochlear implant; especially in those individuals who have been deaf for a great deal of time, is that the brain may have adapted and may be using those areas of the brain usually dedicated to the process of hearing, for something else since they were sitting around empty and unused.
When the cochlear implant starts to work, this can be very disorienting and can cause a good bit of emotional and mental trauma for the person involved, though it is usually overcome with therapy and patience.
As always, the risk of a surgery like this one needs to be weighed against the benefit that the person undergoing the procedure will derive from the outcome.
For the very elderly patient, or for those with other severe medical conditions, the risks may not be worth the advantage of being able to hear again, even if not completely.
For example, young children (under the age of two) respond much better to a cochlear implant than do older children.
Regardless of how long you’ve been without your hearing, you need to weigh your options carefully when you are considering these kinds of implants.
It can be the best thing that you’ve ever done, but it can also be extremely dangerous, especially if you don’t really need the procedure, and while you hear better, you may be trading the ability.
A cochlear implant can be an amazing thing, especially for those who have never been able to hear properly; a miracle of sorts, designed to bring hearing to those who might have no other options.