Today is International Cochlear Implant Day (25th February 2016) and a day to appreciate the truly remarkable advances of medical science.
The Cochlear Implant has come a long way since they were first introduced to us in the 1960s and technology has continued to develop and become more and more advanced, and of course, as time goes on, is likely to become even smarter.
It is estimated that as of December 2012 approximately 324,200* people worldwide have received implants; not everyone has the same degree of success but they will have some semblance of hearing in the implanted ear and it will be better than what they started with and with rehabilitation and determination, the hearing can improve over time.
There are three CI makes available to patients; Med-El, Cochlear and Advanced Bionics. Although all three have the same ultimate goal, to restore some aspect of hearing in the patient, they all have slightly different characteristics to their implants i.e. Med-El is known for their flexible electrodes with a wide selection available to suit the individual patient’s needs. Some patients will not be able to choose their own device due to medical problems with the ear, i.e. some may need to have regular MRI’s and so a device suitable for that need will be chosen for them by their surgeon.
The benefits of having a cochlear implant can be life changing for some people (myself included) with some patients able to understand speech without lip-reading, able to talk on the telephone or hear the TV and listen to music. It also has the advantage of helping you to control the pitch of your own voice. I know that when I had my hearing loss I found it really difficult to control the volume of my speech as I could not hear it myself; I found myself talking either very quietly or really really loudly, much to the embarrassment of my family and friends.
There are also psychological advantages of having an implant such as improved confidence as well as broader social and professional opportunities available. Having a profound hearing loss can really dent an individual’s confidence and can bring about depression in some, being able to communicate effectively is a key to your mental and physical stability that is often overlooked. Those with profound hearing loss are more at risk of mental and often physical illnesses because they tend to isolate themselves from others.
If you have ever wondered what exactly profound hearing loss is classified as, the below picture from http://www.medel.com/en/audiogram/ indicates the sounds heard at different frequencies. A “normal” hearing person would be able to hear all of the pitches available whereas a profoundly deaf individual would only pick up on the loudest frequencies, if at all. My own hearing (in my left un-implanted ear) drops off the audiograph at the 120 mark which apparently means I would barely even register the sound of an earthquake!
According to NICE (The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) guidelines in the UK, to be able to qualify for a unilateral CI under the NHS, severe to profound deafness is qualified as hearing only sounds that are louder than 90dB HL without hearing aids.
My own personal experience with my Med El Opus 2 implant has been nothing short of amazing; from Day 1 I have been able to enjoy hearing my friends and family (although they were extremely squeaky to begin with!) and continued to flourish with every tuning session. I did come across a little bump in the road when I began to get twitching in my face when I heard loud noises but after extensive adjustments this has since disappeared. It is a potential side effect of the operation as the implant is so close to the facial nerves but the audiologists are fantastic at what they do and are always willing to try new combinations to make you feel happier with the implant.
Since receiving the implany nearly 14 months ago, I have regained my confidence, travelled abroad extensively (with no issues), explored new opportunities both socially and professionally and even got married!
There now seems to be no limit to what I can achieve and I am forever grateful to medical science for giving me my “Va Va Voom” back.
If you want to find out more about Cochlear Implants take a look at the following sites;