Your hearing health is a journey. For some, their hearing loss was with them since birth or early childhood. For others, the decline is a gradual process over several years, and even a few experience an abrupt change. Regardless of how or when your hearing declined, it is probably safe to say that you’ve experienced moments of frustration, anxiousness and confusion. But let’s not forget those moments of joy and thankfulness when you got the help you needed and were able to re-immerse yourself in the hearing world. Hearing aids are a tool that open experiences and opportunities when our bodies can no longer process sound in a healthy way. But what happens when the hearing aids you’ve become so dependent on no longer provide you with the benefit you need to communicate effectively?
The next step in your hearing journey may include a device known as a cochlear implant (CI). There is a lot of information about cochlear implants in the media and online. Some of information can be very helpful while other websites make the process sound very intimidating. Before you rely on the internet to make any decisions about whether an implant is right for you, make sure you talk to an audiologist who has experience with them. The most basic truth is that while hearing aids improve hearing by amplifying certain sounds, it is only with a cochlear implant that your hearing team can restore the understanding of speech, listening to your favorite music, or hearing soft sounds in nature.
A cochlear implant system is comprised of both internal and external parts. The external sound processor, which looks very similar to a behind-the-ear hearing aid or can be worn off the ear, captures sounds and converts them into digital information. That information is then sent to the internal implant, which is surgically inserted into the inner ear. The tiny electrode sends signals directly to the hearing nerve and bypasses damaged hair cells in order for the brain to interpret each sound individually.
There are numerous questions that I’m sure you will have if your audiologist recommends a cochlear implant or you’ve done some research on your own and plan to bring it up at your next appointment. If there is one thing I want to stress it’s that you are not alone in this journey. You have a team of people ready to support and guide you through the process of evaluation, implantation and rehabilitation. But one of the most important members of that team is you. The decision to get a cochlear implant is one that ultimately you need to make for yourself, because you value and desire the ability to connect with your world to the best of your ability. Like every journey it will require patience, hard work and consistent, collaborative care with your audiologist. Regardless of all the testing and measurements that I put my patients through, I’ve never found a way to quantify the value of a smile or tears of joy as they share with me descriptions of their new quality of life after implantation.
For more information about the Center for Hearing & Speech’s cochlear implant program, please call us at (314) 968-4710.
Kate Sinks, Au.D., ABAC, CCC-A
Director of Audiology
Image courtesy of Advanced Bionics