Cochlear Implants Hair Cells Don A Wig And Get Wired
Quite a few people with hearing problems use hearing aids to assist their ability to detect sounds. However, hearing aids are not always so helpful when a person suffers from advanced stages of deafness.
For such individuals, a cochlear implant may work wonders; if properly utilised, a cochlear implant can introduce a previously ailing person to a whole new world of sound, speech and language.
A cochlear implant doesn’t completely restore the ability to hear. But, it does help detect or perceive sounds better than before. By enabling a useful representation of sounds, the implant also assists in learning to speak and learn a language. Another important benefit is the improved ability to detect important sounds in the general surrounding such as telephone rings, fire alarms, doorbells, vehicle horns etc.
Hearing Aids Vs. Cochlear Implants
A hearing aid amplifies sound to help hearing; in other words, it turns up the volume. Cochlear implants, however, help sound signals get past the damaged part of the inner ear (cochlea) and directly reach the auditory nerves. These are the same nerves which take sound signals to the brain which, in turn, interprets the signals and enables hearing.
How Cochlear Implants Help Hearing
We detect sounds through the combined effort of our outer and inner ear. The inner ear or the cochlea consists of tiny hair cells which receive sound signals and then pass them onto the auditory nerves. Any damage to these hair cells restricts them for sending those signals on to the auditory nerves. Hence, hearing gets severely affected. A cochlear implant helps the signals skip the damaged hair cells and directly reach the auditory nerves. Here is a basic step-by-step description of how it works:
- A microphone placed around the ear picks up sounds from the environment. A sound processor, usually worn behind the ear, digitises the received sound.
- The sound processor then sends the digital version to a transmitter and receiver/stimulator.
- The transmitter and receiver/stimulator convert the digital signals into electrical impulses to be sent to an array of electrodes placed in the cochlea (the inner ear).
- These electrodes stimulate the auditory nerve, which then transfers the impulses to the brain for further processing as sound signals.
Procedure For Getting an Implant
Getting a cochlear implant will require a surgical procedure and extended therapy to help the person with implants learn how to process new sounds. If you are considering a cochlear implant, you will have to first visit a cochlear implant centre and undergo certain audiological and psychological tests. These will determine your suitability for getting an implant.
After suitability is confirmed, a date for surgery gets fixed. It is a 2 – 4 hour long process and after a night of stay at the hospital, you can go home. It takes 4 – 6 weeks until after the surgery for your implants to get activated. For this, you will have to revisit the implant centre. Once the implants are activated, initial follow-up visits would be required to fine tune the implants. Regular therapy sessions will help you learn how to process and understand new sounds.
Cochlear Implants for Children
Children as young as 12 months of age may be eligible for a cochlear implant. In fact, experts say that children with hearing problems should receive implants as early as possible so that they are exposed to sound during the critical periods of their language learning process.
Studies have shown that kids with impaired hearing, who received implants before reaching 18 months of age, were able to pick up language and speech skills at almost the same rate as kids with normal hearing did.
Making Up Your Mind About a Cochlear Implant
When considering cochlear implants, make sure to understand the risks associated with the process. It is always good to have a clear understanding of what to expect from an implant.
Surgical procedures for placing implants are almost always safe, though some complications can never be ruled out. They may also be expensive. There would be quite a few follow-up commitments and you would be required to take certain lifelong precautions to ensure that the implants work optimally.
Learning to understand sounds will take time and practice on your part. Adults who lose hearing after having developed language skills usually get used to implants faster than those who lost hearing before picking up language.
It is true that a cochlear implant does impose certain restrictions on a person’s lifestyle. But, with practice, one can begin to understand speech, enjoy music and converse more freely with people. For someone who has never been exposed to sound, it can be a truly life-altering experience.
Disclaimer: This content including advice provides generic information only. It is in no way a substitute for qualified medical opinion. Always consult a specialist or your own doctor for more information.