Hearing loss affects 900,000 people in the United States. It is estimated that 25% of persons over the age of 65 have some degree of hearing loss. A cochlear implant is a solution for hearing loss when traditional hearing aids are no longer helpful. Currently only 5% of adults who could benefit from a cochlear implant have one.
The human ear consists of three parts that play a vital role in hearing: The outer, middle, and inner ear. For more information about the process of human hearing, click here.
Sound is funneled through the ear canal (outer ear) causing the eardrum to vibrate. Three small bones in the middle ear conduct a mechanical signal directing sound to the cochlea (inner ear). The cochlea is fluid filled and contains 16,000 delicate hair cells. As these hair cells move, they generate an electrical current, sending the signal to the auditory nerve and then to the brain for processing.
What is a Cochlear Implant?
A cochlear implant is an electrical device that is surgically implanted into the inner ear. The implant is connected to an external device – the processor—via magnets. The processor sits behind the ear and receives sound through a microphone. The sound is then processed and transmitted to the implant through radio frequencies. Cochlear implants bypass damage in the inner ear by converting speech and environmental sounds into electrical signals and sending these signals to the hearing nerve directly. While an implant does not restore normal hearing, it does provide a useful representation of sound to help recipients understand speech.
Audiologic and Medical Criteria
We follow both FDA and Medicare criteria when evaluating a potential cochlear implant candidate. Prospective candidates with significant, single sided, or asymmetrical hearing loss undergo a series of comprehensive tests. This is designed to evaluate hearing loss and assess benefit from traditional hearing aids. A person may be a candidate for a cochlear implant when their hearing loss is so severe that hearing aids are no longer helpful.
Once a patient’s case has been approved by an audiologist, the next step is a visit with our cochlear implant surgeon. The surgeon reviews the audiology team’s testing, recommendations and will discuss the surgery itself.
Cochlear implant surgery is an outpatient procedure performed under general anesthesia and lasts two-three hours. An incision is made behind the ear and very little hair, if any, is shaved for the procedure. Recovery tends to be fairly quick. Some individuals may feel some dizziness after surgery that usually goes away within days.
Two-three weeks after surgery, you will have a post-operative evaluation with your surgeon to ensure things are healing well. Once you are cleared by your surgeon you will meet with the audiologist for initial activation and programming of the cochlear implant.
Follow-up and Audiology Rehabilitation
When people first receive a cochlear implant, they describe the sound to be nothing like they have heard before. It takes time and dedicated listening practice for the brain to recognize this new “electric sound” as meaningful. During the first few months, there are several appointments to program the cochlear implant. This helps with adjusting to the new sound as well as improves performance with the implant. Occasionally, if progress is slow, the cochlear implant audiologist will recommend more formal aural rehabilitation with a specialized speech language therapist.
Most health insurance companies, including Medicare, provide coverage as long as certain criteria are met.
Cochlear Implant Team Members
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Other questions aside from Cochlear Impants? Give us a call at 612-871-1144 to schedule an appointment.