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What is a Cochlear Implant?
A cochlear implant is a small, complex electronic device that can help to provide a sense of sound to a person who is profoundly deaf or severely hard-of-hearing. The implant consists of an external portion that sits behind the ear and a second portion that is surgically placed under the skin (see figure). An implant has the following parts:
- A microphone, which picks up sound from the environment.
- A speech processor, which selects and arranges sounds picked up by the microphone.
- A transmitter and receiver/stimulator, which receive signals from the speech processor and convert them into electric impulses.
- An electrode array, which is a group of electrodes that collects the impulses from the stimulator and sends them to different regions of the auditory nerve.
An implant does not restore normal hearing. Instead, it can give a deaf person a useful representation of sounds in the environment and help him or her to understand speech.
Cochlear Implant FAQ
How does a cochlear implant work?
A cochlear implant is very different from a hearing aid. Hearing aids amplify sounds so they may be detected by damaged ears. Cochlear implants bypass damaged portions of the ear and directly stimulate the auditory nerve. Signals generated by the implant are sent by way of the auditory nerve to the brain, which recognizes the signals as sound. Hearing through a cochlear implant is different from normal hearing and takes time to learn or relearn. However, it allows many people to recognize warning signals, understand other sounds in the environment, and understand speech in person or over the telephone.
Who gets cochlear implants?
Children and adults who are deaf or severely hard-of-hearing can be fitted for cochlear implants. As of December 2012, approximately 324,200 registered devices have been implanted worldwide. In the United States, roughly 58,000 devices have been implanted in adults and 38,000 in children. (Estimates provided by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration [FDA], as reported by cochlear implant manufacturers.)
The FDA first approved cochlear implants in the mid-1980s to treat hearing loss in adults. Since 2000, cochlear implants have been FDA-approved for use in eligible children beginning at 12 months of age. For young children who are deaf or severely hard-of-hearing, using a cochlear implant while they are young exposes them to sounds during an optimal period to develop speech and language skills. Research has shown that when these children receive a cochlear implant followed by intensive therapy before they are 18 months old, they are better able to hear, comprehend sound and music, and speak than their peers who receive implants when they are older. Studies have also shown that eligible children who receive a cochlear implant before 18 months of age develop language skills at a rate comparable to children with normal hearing, and many succeed in mainstream classrooms.
Some adults who have lost all or most of their hearing later in life can also benefit from cochlear implants. They learn to associate the signals from the implant with sounds they remember, including speech, without requiring any visual cues such as those provided by lipreading or sign language.
How does someone receive a cochlear implant?
Use of a cochlear implant requires both a surgical procedure and significant therapy to learn or relearn the sense of hearing. Not everyone performs at the same level with this device. The decision to receive an implant should involve discussions with medical specialists, including an experienced cochlear-implant surgeon.
The process can be expensive. For example, a person’s health insurance may cover the expense, but not always. Some individuals may choose not to have a cochlear implant for a variety of personal reasons. Surgical implantations are almost always safe, although complications are a risk factor, just as with any kind of surgery.
An additional consideration is learning to interpret the sounds created by an implant. This process takes time and practice. Speech-language pathologists and audiologists are frequently involved in this learning process. Prior to implantation, all of these factors need to be considered.
Cochlear Implant Vendors We Use
A global leader in implantable hearing solutions, having provided more than 550,000 implantable devices, helping people of all ages to lead full and active lives. You can count on three things: technical product innovation, world-class design, and lifelong commitment.
At Advanced Bionics, we’re committed to helping everyone achieve their hearing goals. We can help your patient whether they want to enjoy music, feel more confident using the phone, or join in conversations with friends and family—even in noisy places.
MED−EL has a strong tradition of advancing the technological and scientific foundation in the field of hearing implants. The company’s strong and consistent focus on research and development will continue to fuel the pipeline of new ideas and innovations.
The Future for Cochlear Implant Technology
The National Institute of Deafness and Communication Disorders (NIDCD) supports research to enhance the benefits of cochlear implants. Scientists are exploring whether using a shortened electrode array, inserted into a portion of the cochlea, for example, can help individuals whose hearing loss is limited to the higher frequencies while preserving their hearing of lower frequencies.
Researchers also are looking at the potential benefits of pairing a cochlear implant in one ear with either another cochlear implant or a hearing aid in the other ear.
Nearly 188,000 individuals worldwide are fitted with a cochlear implant. In the United States, more than 41,000 adults and nearly 26,000 children have one.
The History of Cochlear Implants
- The first cochlear implants to be tested were single-channel cochlear implants, which transmit all sound frequencies as a single signal to the inner ear.
- In the late 1970s, implants were developed to stimulate different portions of the surviving auditory nerve, based on the different sound frequencies present in the environment.
- In 1984, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first cochlear implant for use in adults ages 18 and older.
- In 2000, the FDA approved the implantation of children as young as 12 months of age for one type of cochlear implant.
Cochlear Implants Today
- NIH-supported scientists showed that profoundly deaf children who receive a cochlear implant at a young age develop language skills at a rate comparable to children with normal hearing.
- Although the benefits of the cochlear implant can vary among individual users, improvements in speech processors and other related technologies allow children with cochlear implants to succeed in mainstream classrooms.