A cochlear implant is a surgically implanted device that bypasses damaged hair cells in the ear and provides electrical stimulation directly to the auditory nerve, giving patients who are severely hearing impaired or profoundly deaf the ability to hear. It is most beneficial for those who cannot be helped with a traditional hearing aid.
How Do Cochlear Implants Work?
A cochlear implant works differently than a hearing aid. Hearing aids amplify sounds so that a person with nerve damage can hear more clearly. Cochlear implants generate an electrical signal that the brain interprets as sound. The implant has an external portion that sits behind the ear, consisting of a microphone, a speech processor and a transmitter. These work in tandem with the internal components, a receiver and array of electrodes, which have been implanted in the ear.
The microphone picks up sound and sends it to the speech processor, which converts these signals to digital impulses and sends them to the transmitter. The transmitter, in turn, sends the processed audio signals to the receiver. From there, they are transmitted directly to the brain through the auditory nerve. While a cochlear implant does not cure deafness or restore hearing loss, it does allow a patient to perceive sound, and can help him or her to converse again.
Who Benefits From a Cochlear Implant?
If you are experiencing sensorineural hearing loss (the result of nerve damage to the inner ear), and do not benefit from conventional hearing aids, you may be a prime candidate for cochlear implants.
These implants are most helpful in two populations of patients—children born with severe to profound hearing loss, and paitents with progressive hearing loss that is no longer helped by hearing aids.
When children are born with severe to profound hearing loss, the goal is to implant around 9-12 months of age, to maximize speech and language development. A cochlear implant exposes children to sounds during their formative learning years, while they are developing speech and language skills.
With patients who have progressive hearing loss, the goal is to implant when hearing aids are no longer helpful. Many patients use a hearing aid in one ear, and a cochlear implant in the other ear. The two devices work together to provide low frequency and high frequency hearing, providing for improvements in not only speech recognition, but hearing in noisy environments, and sound localization.
After implantation, aural rehabilitation therapy with a speech therapist is crucial to success–learning to use cochlear implants takes time and effort.
What Is Cochlear Mapping?
Patients often need the help of a cochlear implant specialist and audiologist throughout the adjustment and programming process. This process is called cochlear implant mapping (MAPs are programs that optimize the functionality of a cochlear implant). Continuous adjustments are the best way to ensure you are hearing and understanding your best.
At Willamette ENT, we offer premier cochlear implant mapping services to our patients. We strongly believe in pairing expert programming with outstanding patient counseling to help you or your loved one get the most out of cochlear implants. Here are some things to keep in mind as you prepare for a cochlear implant mapping appointment:
- Come up with notes, questions and concerns in the weeks before your appointment. Bring this list to your audiology appointment to ensure you get the answers you need and the results you want.
- Expect to be tested. The mapping process relies on your perception and comprehension abilities to provide the best results possible. Your adjustments will be made not only based on your hearing abilities but also your speech audiometry testing results.
- Prepare to give it your all by coming to your audiologist’s office focused, hydrated, well fed and rested. Mapping is a very precise procedure that requires undivided attention from both you and your audiologist.
- Bring all your equipment, including accessories, the remote, your backup processor and anything else that might be relevant. Each of these pieces of equipment is important to the overall mapping process.
- Express your concerns. If certain sounds come across distorted, loud, quiet or otherwise abnormal, don’t hesitate to speak up! Cochlear implants require hard work from patients and loved ones, but mapping appointments are the time to get as much right as possible.
“I have been going to Willamette ENT on and off for most of my life. The staff is always so friendly, and the doctors and nurses show a lot of care and compassion!”