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Cochlear Implants: Improved Technology Widens the Range of Patients Being Helped!

Living in a world without sound can be a scary proposition for anyone.  The advancement of cochlear implants have revolutionized the field of hearing loss and its benefits continue to expand as doctor’s study its effects in different types of patients and the technology continues to improve.  Cochlear implants help to dramatically restore normal hearing.  These devices, which were first approved by the FDA initially only for children, have undergone dramatic advances as researchers understanding of hearing loss and technology have improved.
Newer so-called “hybrid” cochlear implants have been developed and are showing great success in improving patient’s hearing loss.  Traditional cochlear implants fill the entire cochlea – the sensory organ which makes up the inner ear. Newer “hybrid” implants only fit into the cochlea for 10 mm and have small electrodes placed into the inner ear.  The idea behind this technology is that patients can utilize their own remaining sensory hearing cells and use the electrical stimulation of the implant to augment their listening ability.  For now the technology requires that patients use a small hearing aid on the same ear as the implant but doctors are hopeful this will be eliminated as the technology continues to advance.

For patients who already have undergone a cochlear implant the effects can be dramatic.  People who have been deaf for years become able to hear normally and usually find they only have trouble with, for example, picking out a new melody to a song which they had never heard prior to becoming deaf.   Researchers are experimenting the range of sensitivity of the cochlear implants to expand the spectrum of sounds a recipient can receive beyond traditional speech sounds to include music and noise.  Many patients are able to hold normal conversations over the telephone without having to rely on lip-reading in order to understand who they are speaking with – a dramatic change in their way of communicating with others. 

Traditionally cochlear implants have been used to assist younger people suffering with debilitating hearing loss.  Newer research has shown that these devices help older individuals as well.  In patients over the age of 65 who were studied cochlear implants improved speech recognition significantly.  Older patients who underwent speech recognition testing 1 year after receiving the implant had dramatic improvement included a large group which demonstrated scores of above 90%.  The technology has advanced to the point where doctors can now recommend cochlear implants to their older patients as an initial treatment for significant hearing loss to improve communication.

It is estimated that approximately 100,000 people worldwide have cochlear implants, half of which are adults.  As both the technology of the devices improve and the costs of building the devices continue to drop, more and more people with debilitating hearing loss will find a way to dramatically improve their quality of life.

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This information is intended for educational and informational purposes only. It should not be used in place of an individual consultation or examination or replace the advice of your health care professional and should not be relied upon to determine diagnosis or course of treatment.