Is A Cochlear Implant Right For Me?
A cochlear implant is a system comprised of an external and internal component. The external component is worn on the ear and works to collect sound from the environment and send it through the skin to the internal component. The internal component is surgically placed underneath the skin and inserted into the organ of hearing, the cochlea.
In a normal functioning cochlea, thousands of sensory cells, or hair cells, respond to an incoming sound and stimulate the auditory nerve. The auditory nerve sends the impulses to the brain and the brain interprets the sound.. Generally speaking, in cases of a mild to severe hearing loss, the incoming sound must be made louder in order for the hair cells to respond. This is where traditional amplification, or a hearing aid, comes into the picture. In other cases, the hair cells are damaged (due to heredity, noise exposure, disease etc.) to the point that no matter how loud the incoming signal is made, the hair cells are unable to stimulate the nerve effectively. At this point a cochlear implant may be a viable option. The portion of the internal component that is placed in the cochlea bypasses the non-functioning or damaged hair cells and directly stimulates the auditory nerve.
In the past, a cochlear implant was deemed appropriate only for individuals with severe to profound hearing losses who received no benefit from hearing aids. Now, as cochlear implant outcomes, safety and efficacy improve, the guidelines for candidacy are expanding. Individuals with less severe hearing losses, as indicated by their audiogram, are now being successfully implanted. In general, a cochlear implant may be an option for someone with a significant and permanent hearing loss who has worn appropriately fit hearing aids but received little to no benefit from them.
To determine if you are a candidate for a cochlear implant you will receive a cochlear implant evaluation. The idea behind a cochlear implant evaluation is to determine how well you are able to hear and understand speech when using appropriate amplification. During the evaluation the audiologist will perform verification measures on your hearing aid(s) to determine if they are appropriate for your hearing loss. If you do not currently have hearing aids the audiologist will program a pair of hearing aids for you to wear for the duration of the evaluation. You will listen to speech passages in a quiet and noisy environment and repeat what you hear. In addition, the audiologist will gather information from you regarding the cause and duration of your hearing loss, determine the presence of family/friend support and assess your motivation towards receiving a cochlear implant. Together, this information will help the audiologist to determine if a cochlear implant is a good option to explore. If it is determined that you are not a cochlear implant candidate then the audiologist will discuss with you your options to help meet your hearing needs.