Cochlear implants are small electronic devices used to assist individuals who are completely deaf or severely hearing-impaired. Unlike hearing aids which amplify sound, cochlear implants bypass damaged areas of the ear, sending sounds directly through the auditory nerve to the brain.
Cochlear implants are designed to correct sensorineural hearing loss, which is damage to the tiny hair cells in the circular portion of the inner ear known as the cochlea. Due to this damage, sound waves cannot reach the auditory nerve. With a cochlear implant, the auditory nerve can be stimulated directly, bypassing the dysfunctional hairs of the inner ear.
The cochlear implant is made up of fours basic parts: a microphone, a speech processor, a transmitter, a receiver and an array of electrodes. Implanted in the inner ear through the skull behind the ear, the cochlear implant is controlled by a part of the device outside the ear. The cochlear implant does not restore normal hearing, but it helps deaf individuals interpret environmental sounds and conversation. Patients require training after the devices are implanted since hearing with a cochlear implant is a task that must be learned, like a new language. Sounds transmitted through the implants are considerably different from those naturally heard.
Cochlear implants are useful to individuals who cannot be helped by hearing aids. They can be implanted in anyone older than one year of age. The original implantation takes place as an outpatient surgical procedure under general anesthesia. About one month later, other parts of the cochlear implant are connected to the original implant and patients can begin therapy to assist them in interpreting the sounds they are now receiving.
Cochlear implants are extremely useful tools, enabling deaf or severely hearing impaired individuals to lead more normal, self-sufficient lives. The extent to which cochlear implants are helpful depends, in large part, on the following factors:
- The age of the recipient
- Whether the hearing loss was congenital
- If not, at what age the patient lost hearing
- The patient's motivation to participate as fully as possible in the hearing world
- The support of the patient's family
Extensive rehabilitation from audiologists and speech-language pathologists is very important in improving the listening and speaking skills of cochlear implant recipients.