What is a Cochlear Implant?
Dr. Elizabeth Kelly, M.D. Otologist, Otolaryngologist
A cochlear implant is a little bit different than a hearing aid. It has two pieces to it, so one piece is surgically implanted and that has an electrode that goes in the inner ear and provides stimulation to the hearing organ and then it has an outside piece that's kind of like a hearing aid and picks up sound from the surroundings.
When someone goes forward to get a cochlear implant, they have to undergo surgery so it's going to be under a general anesthesia. We make an incision behind the ear and have a little pocket of tissue where we put the implant and then we drill out the bone behind the ear, which is almost like a sinus for the ear which allows us access to the inner ear to be able to put the electrode in.
Anyone from young babies to adults can have a cochlear implant, usually its patients that have severe to profound hearing loss that aren't achieving benefit from their hearing aids. For kids often when they're young babies if they're diagnosed with a hearing loss, they often have to go through a trial of hearing aids for a few months to see if they're getting any benefit from that but usually when it's been detected early on after they're born that they have a severe hearing loss we start them on the pathway of considering a cochlear implant usually around the age of one. For adults, it's a little bit different and every person's hearing loss is very individual and so often patients will have a time period where they're using hearing aids and just the hearing loss is progressing to a point that they need to get an implant because it's not providing them benefit anymore.
Here at Boys Town, we have a team of individuals that includes audiology, speech and the physicians or surgeons that put the implant in as well as nurses, coordinators and other staff that kind of help take care of patients and determine if someone's a candidate, so even the initial process to determine if you're a candidate takes a couple of visits and appointments. The surgery lasts a few hours and then you go home that same day. It's a day procedure but then afterwards is when the work really begins.
When someone gets an implant right away, they can't just turn it on and hear right away, it takes a lot of time for the patient's brain to process what that new sound is, where patients have to learn what the new sound is that's provided from the cochlear implant device and that requires a lot of visits with audiology as well as the speech-language pathologists afterwards with especially within that first year.
For adults who have gone a period of time where they had a sudden hearing gloss or have really been struggling for years they're very excited for the first time in a while that they've been able to participate in their social activities and really hear what their spouse is saying or communicate at work and it's really a life changer for them. I can't believe I'm hearing you. This is amazing. And the same thing for kids too, when parents start to see that they're having more interactions with their child that was born without hearing and really seeing that they could potentially be developing at the same rate of someone who has normal hearing is really exciting. I think this is one of the great parts of my job. I think communications is just so important and just you know having interactions with your family and relationships and when someone can't hear and understand what people are talking to them, especially in adults they isolate themselves from those situations and be able to help them restore those relationships is a great feeling to be able to help, and also for kids this is a very vulnerable time for them to develop and to be able to have that relationship with their parents and help with communication as well as develop as an individual and learn in school it makes me feel really excited that I can be a part of that.
The Cochlear Implant Center at Boys Town National Research Hospital has served children and adults with severe or profound hearing loss for more than a decade with comprehensive clinical services. Learn from the experts on what a cochlear implant is and how it can help you or your child.