A cochlear implant is an electronic device that electrically stimulates the cochlear nerve which is the nerve for hearing. A cochlear implant is comprised of surgically placed internal components as well as external components that sit behind the ear similar to a hearing aid. The external parts collect and process sound and then transmit it to the internal parts of the implant. The internal components are placed under the skin behind the ear in an outpatient surgery. The internal parts then send sound information to the brain producing a hearing sensation. Through therapy and practice, this new signal allows for increased awareness of sound and enhanced communication. Normal hearing is not restored; a cochlear implant allows for a different kind hearing.
External parts of a cochlear implant
Internal parts of a cochlear implant
Who is a candidate for a cochlear implant?
For adults, 18 years of age and older, a cochlear implant candidate has moderate to profound sensorineural hearing loss in both ears. Extensive preoperative testing by an audiologist must be completed to determine limited benefit from hearing aids. Testing includes repeating sentences and words in quiet and in noise with hearing aids on.
You should consider cochlear implants if your hearing loss is limiting your life experiences and hearing aids are not sufficiently helping. If you rely heavily on lip reading due to poor clarity of spoken words, you may be a candidate for an implant.
Outcomes with cochlear implants vary greatly from person to person. It is important to remember that cochlear implants do not restore normal hearing. Extensive training and therapy are required to learn how to interpret the new electrical signals that have replaced natural acoustic hearing. For most people, awareness of sound increases significantly within days of initial activation (when the device is turned on for the first time about 4-6 weeks after surgery). The ability to understand speech improves gradually, with the most improvement occurring within the first six months of activation.
Contact your audiologist or ENT physician if interested in cochlear implantation. An updated hearing test is required to determine if a person qualifies to proceed with additional preoperative testing to determine candidacy.