The cochlear implant is a medical prosthesis (small electronic device) that is placed in the inner ear that can help improve the hearing of people with severe, irreversible hearing loss. Although a cochlear implant does not restore normal hearing, it can allow a person to hear and understand more speech than was possible with a hearing aid.
For a child, this could mean an opportunity to develop listening and speech skills and the potential to attend school with hearing peers. For adults, a cochlear implant could reduce social isolation and improve communication.
The implant system has three primary parts:
- Microphone and Transmitter — The headpiece and transmitter is about the size of a quarter and is worn above the ear to pick up sounds. These sounds are sent to a speech processor.
- Speech Processor — A speech processor is worn externally, either on a belt like a pager or behind the ear like a large hearing aid, to convert sound into a digital code that is transmitted to an implanted stimulator.
- Implanted Stimulator — The implanted stimulator is a small component placed under the skin behind the ear. It receives a digital code from the speech processor and sends it to the auditory or hearing nerve. The brain interprets this signal and it is recognized as sound.
The small headpiece and transmitter is held in place by a magnet coupled the implanted stimulator, under the skin.
Your audiologist will determine if you or your child is a candidate for a cochlear implant. Patients are selected based on medical and hearing histories and test results as well as findings and recommendations from a psychological interview.
Evaluation generally takes two days. Your audiologist will discuss in detail the components of the cochlear implant device, its functions, benefits and limitations as well as the surgical process. The evaluation, which differs slightly for children and adults, includes the following:
- Medical Evaluation — Conducted by the implant surgeon who will take your medical history, examine your ears and explain the surgical process to you.
- CT Scan — This computerized tomography (CT) scan produces a two-dimensional X-ray of your inner ear. It allows the surgeon to evaluate the ear’s internal structure, recommend which ear to implant and may provide information as to the cause of deafness.
- Audiological Evaluation — This evaluation involves a hearing test to confirm the type and degree of your hearing loss, hearing aid evaluation to assess the benefit provided by a hearing aid and aided speech recognition testing to determine if a hearing aid might provide greater benefit than an implant.
- Psychological Screening — This screening is conducted by psychologists to assess your feelings about hearing loss and the cochlear implant, such as your reasons for seeking the implant and your expectations.
- Cochlear Implant Counseling — At this time, you will find out if you qualify for an implant, based on the results of the entire evaluation. If you qualify, possible benefits and limitations will be explained and you will be provided with information to select your device.
- School Visit — For a child, the purpose of the school visit is to establish an ongoing relationship with his or her school, teacher and therapists prior to implant surgery and to provide in-service training to the professionals working with your child to ensure mutual support and shared goals.