Technology has come a long way since I was diagnosed as deaf at 14 months. I now wear a hearing aid in one ear and a cochlear implant (CI) — which I received 10 years ago — in the other. That’s what the magnet is for. It allows my external processor to connect with an internal receiver and electrodes, which stimulate my cochlea to provide sound.
Because the technology steadily improves, I receive periodic hearing upgrades. A few years ago, I got a waterproof processor, which allowed me to hear in water for the first time. The next time I get a hearing aid, I’ll be able to link it with my CI. And one manufacturer now has an implant that is compatible with MRI scans.
CIs have helped restore hearing for more than 30,000 children and 40,000 adults in the U.S. It isn’t brain surgery, nor is it dangerous. Implantation is done in a hospital under general anesthesia, typically only takes two to three hours, and most patients go home the same day. According to the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, success depends on factors including age, auditory memory for sound and speech and length of deafness.
“The younger a child born deaf is implanted, the greater the benefit achieved in the areas of speech perception and speech and language development,” says the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. The National Institutes of Health agrees, as large research studies have shown that children who receive a CI at a young age develop language skills at a rate comparable to children with normal hearing. I can attest to this; I’ve met and seen countless young recipients who don’t have deaf accents, can use the telephone and hear nuances in music far better than I do.
Because I was born deaf and didn’t get a CI until I was in my 30s, I haven’t seen the same results as those who received theirs as infants and toddlers. But I don’t regret it for a minute; I feel safer being able to hear my kids and nearby sounds, I don’t miss headlight alerts (saving my car battery) and my speech has improved.
Over 90 percent of children born deaf have hearing parents. It’s only natural for parents to want their children to be a part of their world and independent in mainstream society. If my kids were born deaf, I would have chosen CIs without blinking, and so would my hearing husband. Deaf friends have made this decision for their children, and the results have been amazing. Isn’t our job as parents to make life easier for our kids?
One myth is that the implanted parts fail often. In reality, this is rare; failure rates are usually less than 2 percent after seven years. Another myth is that a CI automatically restores hearing; the brain needs to learn how to listen and this requires rehab and hard work, especially for those with limited auditory memory.
It’s also worth it financially. The NIH found the benefits to be cost effective in children. “In comparison, the services, special education, and adaptation related to a child that is deaf before age 3 costs more than $1 million,” the NIH says.
With more than 80,000 individuals in just Pennsylvania with some form of hearing loss, there are many who can benefit. But according to a study in the International Journal of Pediatric Otorhinolaryngology, “the population that could benefit from this technology is still being significantly underserved.” Granted, a CI isn’t for everyone, but more awareness is needed.
Perhaps walking around with a spoon stuck to my head will do the trick.
Source: Post Gazette, Lisa A. Goldstein reporter
Image credit: Redbaron
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