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Technology

What are Cochlear Implants?

A Cochlear Implant (CI) is a device that helps users with a profound or severe hearing loss to perceive sound. It bypasses most of the ear to stimulate the auditory nerve. A CI is made of a microphone, a processor, a transmitter, and a receiver-electrode implant. The microphone, processor, and transmitter are the pieces seen on the user’s head while the receiver-implant portion lies just beneath the skin. The transmitter attaches to the receiver via a magnet that holds the transmitter to the receiver.

How it works

The microphone picks up sounds around the person. The user can choose between different microphone types based on their preferences and/or environmental considerations.

The microphone signal is then sent to the processor and is converted into a series of pulses that encode important aspects of the speech signal. The coded pulses are then sent to the transmitter which in turn sends the signal to the receiver.

The receiver collects the signal and passes it to tiny electrodes implanted in the inner ear that stimulate the auditory nerve. 

Who can receive a CI?

Eligibility for a cochlear implant is typically determined by a team of professionals, although in most cases it is the the implant surgeon who will determine if a child is a good candidate for an implant. Current medical guidelines for implanting children include the following criteria:

  • A severe-to-profound hearing loss
  • A trial use of hearing aids
  • Good overall health
  • At least 12 months of age

There are, however, circumstances where an implant may be recommended for a child under 12 months of age, or who has a lesser hearing loss. These are largely considered by the implant team on a case by case basis.

The typical process of implanting a CI

Initial visit: This appointment gives the implant team and the parents/adult a chance to discuss CI’s or other options for themselves or the child. Eligibility is typically discussed at this time.

Counseling: This will be an ongoing process. Before the surgery, it provides parents with information about possible outcomes and provides information about what to expect with an implant. Following surgery, counseling can provide ongoing support for the family and child as they becom acclimated to the device.  

Formal evaluation: This appointment measures user candidacy. A team of professionals will conduct audiological, physical, and radiological evaluations to determine if the child is a good candidate for an implant.

Surgery: The implant is done by an implant surgeon. The surgical procedure typically lasts for two to three hours and is done under a general anesthesia.

Recovery: Typically recovery requires three to four weeks, during which the body heals from the surgical procedure.

Mapping and Activation : An audiologist will carefully map aspects of the speech signal to each electrode. This insures that the device is individually adjusted for each implant user. Once the implant is mapped, then the device will be activated. The mapping and activation will typically occur over several sessions.

Follow up visits: Once the implant is activated, the real work begins. The team of professional will conduct an assessment of audiological, speech and language skills.

Speech and language development: The process of learning to use the implant and to interpret the coded information as speech, takes time. The child may need specific intervention by speech and hearing professionals in order to facilitate development, and to provide parents with information on how best to promote speech and language development.

Cochlear Implant Manufacturers 

There are three major manufacturers of implants used in the US – Advanced Bionics ,Med-El, and Cochlear. While the basic functioning of cochlear implants are similar regardless of manufacturer, each brand varies according a range of features. Because models change rapidly, it’s best to refer to each manufacturer’s website to determine the most recent models and their features.

*A Note: Cochlear Implants help many people who have a profound or severe hearing loss experience sound, but it doesn’t restore their hearing. 

Hearing Assistive Technology

Hearing Assistive Technology (HATS) assists the cochlear implant user in a variety of professional, social, and personal settings. These devices facilitate communication between the user and their friends and family by directing sound directly from the source to the listener.   HATS can be used with or without hearing aids or cochlear implants to make it easier to hear.

There are a range of devices available, with most being wireless. They may rely on radio waves, bluetooth signals, infrared signals, or electromagnetic signals to send information from the speaker to the listener.

Other HATS: Other HAT devices use techniques to alerts such as lights or vibrations to alert a person with a CI. These devices include light flashing doorbells, vibrating alarm clocks, and more.

infromation developed by Mikaela Stine

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