About Cochlear Implants
What are cochlear implants?
For adults of all ages, cochlear implants are a hearing loss solution for those with moderate to profound sensorineural hearing loss who are receiving limited benefit from hearing aids. Limited benefit can translate into missing most of what is said in a conversation; significant difficulty hearing in the presence of background noise; and reduced access to sounds in one’s surrounding environment.
Cochlear implants are also appropriate for children as young as 12 months with severe to profound sensorineural hearing loss. With the right support from loved ones and professionals, cochlear implants can provide great benefit for hearing and overall quality of life.
How do they work?
There are two main components to a cochlear implant system, the implant and the sound processor. The internal component is surgically implanted and contains the internal stimulator, a removable magnet, and the electrode array. The external component is the sound processor, which is worn on the head and ear and contains the processing chip, microphones, battery module and a coil. The sound processor collects and processes sound to be sent across the skin to the implant. The sound processor also is removable and provides power to the implant.
Hearing aids vs. cochlear implants
Cochlear implants and hearing aids are not interchangeable. To qualify as a cochlear implant candidate, one must perceive limited benefit with their hearing aids. Additionally, specific testing must be completed with properly fit hearing aids and specific criteria established by the FDA and Medicare must be met. Audiologists can guide patients toward the device that works best for their hearing needs.
Determination of candidacy
Adults and children as young as 12 months are possible candidates for cochlear implants. Factors to consider besides FDA and Medicare criteria when evaluating candidacy include hearing loss, support at home, current health issues, cause of hearing loss, and hearing goals. Patients are usually required to have tried hearing aids before being eligible for cochlear implants. Cochlear implantation surgery is a lifelong decision that should be taken seriously.
A look at the different types of cochlear implants
There are different types of implants and sound processors. The implant is typically chosen by your surgeon. Your audiologist will help you choose which processor(s) may be best for you based on your lifestyle. Accessories are also available for extra support in specific listening situations, like hearing in background noise, on the phone, or when watching television. With the assistance of accessories, sound processors can be used in situations, such as swimming and other forms of exercise. With modern electrode design and surgical technique, sometimes natural hearing can be preserved and utilized with the cochlear implant through electro-acoustic stimulation (EAS). Your audiologist will determine if this is an appropriate option for you following surgery.
Follow up Care
As with any treatment plan, proper follow up is crucial for success with a cochlear implant. During the first year following surgery, you will visit our office several times for programming and testing as your brain adjusts and learns a new way of listening. After the first year, most cochlear implant users only need to follow up with their audiologists only once to twice per year.
Facts About Cochlear Implants
- When candidacy requirements are met, cochlear implant surgery is covered by Medicare, many private insurance plans, and typically Medicaid.
- In most cases, follow up care will be partially covered.
- Practice makes perfect - successful users wear their sound processors all waking hours of the day.
- New implant designs have improved the chance of usable residual hearing.
- Like hearing aids, the the sound processor can be upgraded overtime to access new technology -no additional surgery required.
- You're never too old - there is no upper age limit for cochlear implant surgery.
- Deaf and hard of hearing children who are implanted early have a better chance of using spoken language as their primary mode of communication.