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Myths about Cochlear Implants

Myths about Cochlear implants, how they work and what they do still abound. There is usually a grain of truth in a myth – which is why the myth exists. So let’s look at some of the common myths and discover what is true and what isn’t.

A Cochlear implant is/is not a cure for deafness
By cure, do we mean the person no longer needs any intervention? If you have cancer and you have the treatment, then are declared cancer free and no longer need treatment of any kind – then that is a cure. But what about vision? If you wear glasses then you’ll know when you have your glasses on you can see ‘perfectly’. So does this make glasses a cure for your vision? If you aren’t wearing your glasses then you still have poor vision, so glasses are not really a cure. The same thing applies to a Cochlear implant. When the processor is being worn, the wearer will hear so in that sense it is a cure – hearing is returned, but deafness still exists whenever the processor is off – so in that sense there is no cure.

A Cochlear implant is brain surgery
Wrong. A Cochlear implant is placed just under the skin on the mastoid bone. The cable and electrodes are inserted into the cochlea and do not enter the brain.

The sound heard through a Cochlear implant is tinny and robotic
There is at least some truth to this myth. A Cochlear implant provides a different stimulation to that which a normal hearing person has. When the Cochlear implant is switched on, the neural connections to the brain have to wake up and interpret the new stimulation. At first, this may cause the sound to be tinny and robotic, but for most people, as the brain grows new neurons, this goes away quite quickly. For me, by the end of a couple of weeks sound was just the way I remembered it.

It takes a long time to hear with a Cochlear implant
Again there is some truth to this. First of all the brain needs to develop new hearing pathways and it needs to learn how to interpret the new stimulus. This is different for everyone and how long it takes will depend on the individual. For me, I understood speech within minutes of switch-on with my first implant, but it was robotic and tinny. It took a couple of more weeks before sounds were normal – the way I remembered them. However, my second ear didn’t respond as well and it took a couple of weeks to understand speech and it was months before it started to sound somewhat normal.

Someone with a Cochlear implant will never hear normally
There is a debate about this. For me sound is very much normal and the way I remember it. I was able to recognise people’s voices by phone even when I hadn’t spoken to them since before I went deaf. But there are still limitations particularly with distance (which is to do with the microphones). Tests show that my hearing is very close to normal – meaning I can understand speech as well as someone with normal hearing. I can do most things a normal hearing person can do – phone, movies, television, parties, music.

Someone with a Cochlear implant will have to be re-implanted when new technology is available
Cochlear designed the implant to be as simple as possible and the complexity of improved technology exists in the external processor. This means that as new sound algorithms and technologies are developed these can be incorporated in the external processor which can still communicate to the implant without the need for re-implantation. I have had two upgrades and each upgrade means I get better and clearer sound.

A Cochlear implant is no different to a hearing aid
This couldn’t be further from the truth. A hearing aid amplifies sound (and may recode the frequency) but basically it can only deliver sound you can still hear. If the hairs in your cochlea are dead then there is no connection to the hearing nerve and no matter how loud the sound, you will not be able to hear it. (It’s a bit like putting glasses on a blind man – it doesn’t matter how strong they are, he still cannot see) A Cochlear implant however, by-passes the damaged hair cells in the Cochlear and delivers the sound to the hearing nerve. This means frequencies which I cannot hear normally or through a hearing aid, when wearing my processors, are now heard. Where once I could not hear consonants the full range of sound is now available to me.

There are lots more myths about Cochlear implants and sometime I may look at a few more. I wouldn’t be without my implants. I put my processors on first thing every morning and take them off when I go to bed. During that time my hearing is so close to normal and this allows me to live and work in a hearing world without missing much at all.

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