How does a cochlear implant work?
A cochlear implant, which resembles a behind-the-ear hearing device, has several key components. The external piece of the implant is the speech processor, which is typically worn behind the ear. The processor has a microphone that picks up sound and a computer that codes the sound into electrical signals. These signals are sent up a cable to a transmitting coil, which is about one inch in diameter, held on to the side of the child’s head with a magnet.
The transmitting coil then sends the signal to a receiving coil in the internally implanted part of the system (the receiver/stimulator placed just below the skin.) The signal is then sent down a thin wire lead to an array of electrodes implanted in the inner ear. The coded signal is transmitted through the electrodes to stimulate the hearing nerve, taking over the function of damaged or missing cells that are unable to transmit hearing information themselves.
Will a cochlear implant provide normal hearing?
A cochlear implant provides access to many sounds including speech, but does not 'fix' hearing loss or restore normal hearing. With consistent aural habilitation (a form of “listening” therapy) and practice, a cochlear implant user can often learn to understand spoken language.
Who can benefit from a cochlear implant?
Adults and children who learned to talk before they became deaf and/or used to have normal hearing or partial hearing often benefit from a cochlear implant.
If your child was born deaf or became deaf before she learned to talk, cochlear implants can provide access to spoken language, maximizing your child’s language potential. In either case, the shorter the duration of deafness, the greater the potential benefit.
What range of hearing loss must my child have to benefit from an implant?
To be a candidate for a cochlear implant, your child must have a severe or profound sensorineural hearing loss in both ears. A child with auditory neuropathy spectrum disorder, a hearing disorder where sound enters the inner ear normally, but the transmission of signals from the inner ear to the brain is impaired, may also be considered for a cochlear implant.
At what age should my child receive a cochlear implant?
Children can receive a cochlear implant beginning at 10-12 months of age. For a child hoping to receive a cochlear implant at this age, evaluations should start around 3-4 months of age. A congenitally deaf child should have cochlear implant surgery before 3 years old, earlier if possible. This early implantation gives your child the best chance to learn to use sound while language skills are developing.
If your child once had normal hearing or partial hearing then became deaf and can no longer benefit from a hearing aid, she should be implanted as soon as possible.
What factors might favor or limit my child's benefit from a cochlear implant?
Ask yourself and your physician:
- Does my child have good cochlear anatomy?
- Does my child have good underlying language abilities?
- Did my child have a solid base of language development prior to surgery?
- Will we participate in regular speech/language/listening therapy given by a clinician trained in working with children who use cochlear implants?
- Am I willing to support my child in using the cochlear implant during all waking hours?
- Is my family able and willing to attend the programming sessions necessary to optimize hearing?
- Are we able to maintain the equipment in good working order?