Cochlear implants are devices that enable patients who can’t benefit from hearing aids – such as those with severe or profound hearing loss – to perceive sound. Rather than amplifying sounds, as hearing aids do, cochlear implants bypass damaged portions of the inner ear and stimulate the auditory nerve directly. Signals are then sent to the brain, and interpreted as sound. Cochlear implants enable adults with hearing loss that occurred later in life to associate signals with sounds they remember, and allow young children to develop speech, language and social skills. They help millions of Americans, including well-known celebrities like Rush Limbaugh, who regained much of his lost hearing ability after cochlear implant surgery in 2001.
Before you are given cochlear implants, your audiologist must first determine whether you are a good candidate. The assessment process involves a series of tests that might include pure tone audiometry, speech recognition testing, auditory brainstem response (ABR) testing, and balance testing. If you currently wear hearing aids, those will be examined and re-fitted, if needed. A CT scan or MRI is usually given to provide a view of your inner ear structures and cochlea. You’ll undergo expectations counseling to ensure you have a reasonable understanding of the benefits and drawbacks of cochlear implants. Your audiologist, often in consultation with additional staff, will then decide whether to move forward with cochlear implants – most clinics use Medicare-mandated guidelines – or recommend alternative treatment.
When you receive your cochlear implants, they will need to be programmed to your specifications and needs. This is known as mapping, and is used to optimize your perception of sound. An audiologist will use a computer program to measure your response to a series of audio tones, utilizing the data to adjust threshold and comfort levels, establish appropriate volume levels, and set stimulation rates. Mapping is crucial to achieving optimum performance from your cochlear implants. As you become comfortable with cochlear implants your hearing will become more sensitive and effective. Follow-up appointments are necessary for fine-tuning settings and making additional adjustments.