Medical science and advancing technology almost always go hand in hand. You cannot have one without the other. As knowledge of disorders and disease grows, our ability to eradicate and correct them improves. Hearing impairment and deafness have always been prevalent in society. In the past those individuals were considered a subclass, often referred to as “deaf and dumb”. However, this is far from the truth! As we expanded our thoughts, understanding, and acceptance, we discovered more about the disorder (medical advancement). Then we worked to discover ways to correct the problem; hence, the development of hearing aids (technological development). First came analog hearing aids, followed by the more advanced digital styles. Now science has led to the development of (drum-roll please)…cochlear implants.
Surgically inserted into the skull, bypassing the dead and damaged part of the ear, cochlear implants are a hearing device that receives sound then transmits it directly to the brain. The procedure is actually quite simple and is done as an outpatient procedure, meaning you go home that day, usually only taking a few hours.
As with anything in life, there are the pros and cons to consider prior to making a life changing decision such as this. Below is a list of the good and the bad (and the ugly) to aid you in developing a better understanding of what would be involved.
1. Surgery – Yes I did say they drill a hole in your skull! Through an incision behind the ear they drill a hole into the mastoid bone. There is a risk of facial nerve damage due to the close proximity. In addition, you will be put under general anesthesia so there is a risk of reaction to the anesthetic medication. (Doesn’t deter you? Then move on to number 2)
2. Expense – If you are not afraid of having holes drilled in your head, I know this will scare most people. Cost of the implant can be $40,000 or more. Not to mention the cost of all the pre-procedure MRI and CT scans as well as the doctor and psychology screenings. Then the speech therapy that will more than likely be required afterward will also cost. Let me throw out there that this is not always covered by insurance either, so please check this out before scheduling your procedure. (If this doesn’t scare you off the rest of the reasons are not that bad and probably will not either! Move on to number 3 brave soul!)
3. Infection – This is usually a risk after the procedure. It is a minimal risk. Keep the site clean and dry while it heals and you should be fine. Worst case scenario you have to get some antibiotic therapy.
4. Permanence – Cochlear implants, unlike hearing aids, are there to stay unless surgically removed! There is no taking it in and out if you are not satisfied or pleased. (If you’re one of those conservatives that do not like change you should definitely be ok! haha…just kidding!)
5. Mechanical Sound – Now I do not necessarily consider this a negative but many do so I listed it here. It is reported that often the sound is more mechanical than natural. To me being able to hear my loved ones say they love me or hear laughter, be it any kind of sound, is a good thing. So, this is more of a personal decision and preference.
6. Damage – Any kind of trauma to the head or area of implant can cause damage, so care must be taken to avoid this. (Don’t we usually try to avoid head trauma anyway?)
Now that we have discussed all the bad things that may or may not happen, lets move on to a happier discussion. If you’re like me you like positive, good things in life!
1. Communication – Implants allow individuals with profound hearing loss or complete deafness a means of hearing sound. It enables them to communicate fully, as well as use a telephone. (WOW is all I have to say about that!)
2. Easy Care – There is no cleaning or special care needed as with hearing aids. Ear mold, which can sometimes occur with hearing aids, is not a problem.
3. Improved learning – For children with hearing loss and deafness, implants enhance their ability to learn. It improves their total communication and speech. A child that may have great difficulty in the hearing world can have a normal, productive life and be able to learn quickly with minimal delays or problems.
I hope this quick review gives you a better understanding of cochlear implants. I recommend you do additional research and voice questions or concerns to your audiologist. They will be able to provide you with the most accurate information and any further risks or benefits there may be. Be fully informed and comfortable in whatever decision you make. Whether or not you choose to receive implants should never deter you from living life to the fullest. Enjoy every day and God bless you in your life’s journey!