11 Myths and Facts About Cochlear Implants

My last post ‘6 Myths and Facts About Hearing Loss’ garnered a lot of interest from individuals with and without hearing loss. A lot of people were unaware of many of the facts uncovered and so I thought I would follow this up with a post on the common myths and facts about Cochlear Implants.

I know when a cochlear implant was first mentioned to me, I had a lot of preconceived ideas that were simply untrue and I was very uninformed about the different devices and process in general. I could have done with this post myself two years ago!!

Cochlear Americas informed me that the most common issue they have come across from their patients is whether cochlear implants are covered by insurance. The good news for patients in the US is that most implants are typically covered by insurance and Cochlear Americas also has an Insurance Support Team to help patients navigate their way through the process and offer assistance if they have been denied coverage.

Myth: A Cochlear implant restores lost hearing.

FACT: A cochlear implant can never replace the hearing you had before. It is not natural hearing. A cochlear implant is an electronic device that can assist those with profound hearing loss. It is a surgically implanted device which bypasses your cochlear and uses small electrical currents to directly stimulate the nerve of hearing which sends signals to the brain which is then interpreted into sound.

Myth: After the operation I will wake up with hearing.

FACT: You will not magically wake up and be able to hear. After surgery there is a recovery period of between 2-4 weeks before switch on. During this period you will be unable to wear a hearing aid or even wash your hair (I know, gross!).

Myth: I will be able to hear straight away when I am switched on.

FACT: This is not necessarily true. For some people they may be able to hear some sounds, albeit they will be completely different from sounds heard before.  Your brain needs to adapt and process the new sounds so it could be hours, days, weeks or even months until you hear sounds properly.

Myth: A Cochlear Implant will sound like “normal” hearing.

FACT: Sounds have been described in all manner of ways, from robotic and mechanical to high-pitched and tinny. For most patients the sounds will always be synthetic and will be completely different to what they were used to.

However, everyone’s brain processes and adapts sounds in different ways so for some, it may well sound more natural. It all depends on your individual circumstances.

Myth: Everyone with hearing loss is entitled to a Cochlear Implant.

FACT: This is not true. To be eligible for a CI, hearing needs to be in the profound category which is classed as hearing loss of 90 to 120 dB HL. This means only loud sounds can be perceived.

In the UK, CI patients are assessed under the NICE Criteria which sets out particular frameworks for eligibility. Currently in the UK, adults are only entitled to one CI, and children two.

Myth: I cannot have an MRI with a Cochlear Implant.

FACT: You are able to have (certain) MRI scans with a cochlear implant, however, every device model has different thresholds/requirements so it is best to check with your manufacturer. Some CI’s require removal of the magnet part before scan and replacement after.

Myth: One Cochlear Implant fits all.

FACT: There are three main manufacturers of cochlear implants; Cochlear, Advanced Bionics and Med-El and each of these manufacturers have different devices on offer for different needs. Some people may not be given a choice on what device they can have because of medical conditions but generally patients are able to decide (at least in the UK this is the case).

Myth: Cochlear Implant surgery is brain surgery.

FACT: The operation involves an internal implant being placed under the skin behind the ear and an electrode inserted into the cochlea, the surgery does not involve any form of brain surgery.

Myth: Future technology will render my implant useless.

FACT: The surgically implanted part of the cochlear implant and the electrodes should last a lifetime. The external sound processor can be replaced as new technology becomes available. The internal part is designed to be compatible with future updates and also with previous generations of implants.

Myth: Once I have cochlear implant surgery, the work is done.

FACT: You will need to have extensive rehabilitation following surgery and switch on. You will need to have sessions with a speech therapist to help train your brain to get used to everyday words/sentences and phrases and regular meetings with your audiologist for the first few months to retune and adjust your implants to sound levels that are comfortable for you. These sessions will become less frequent as you begin to adjust but you will have these sessions throughout your life. It is important to continue rehabilitation outside of these appointments to ensure you can get the best out of your implants.

Myth: Cochlear Implants are easily damaged / often need replacement or stop working.

Device failures in cochlear implants are rare and most of the manufacturers have failure rates of less than 2% after 7 years and as previously mentioned, the implants are designed to last a lifetime. That said, users should be careful when participating in contact sports and ensure that their head is adequately protected from harm.

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