Cochlear Implants: Could this help your child with a hearing impairment?
A cochlear implant is a device used to help people with profound hearing losses to regain the ability to process sound waves. This is done by stimulating the auditory nerve directly rather than through the damaged hair cells. Patients typically work with audiologists, speech language pathologists, psychologists, and counselors throughout their aural rehabilitation. Cochlear implants were developed in the 1970s, but were only approved for use in 1985 for adults and 1990 for children. As of December 2012, approximately 324,200 registered devices have been implanted worldwide. In the United States, roughly 58,000 devices have been implanted in adults and 38,000 in children (https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/cochlear-implants).
There are many associated benefits of cochlear implantation, but the risks need to be closely examined as well before determining whether it is the appropriate method of intervention for your child's needs. Benefits include the possibility of sound perception from limited to normal ranges, resulting in improved social communication. Additionally there is a potential to participate in other day to day activities such as watching television, making telephone calls, or listening to music. Risks may include injury to the facial nerve, episodes of dizziness, taste disturbances, ringing in the ears (i.e. tinnitus), numbness around the ear, and other medical complications.Test your knowledge of cochlear implants: Myth or Reality?
- Implant users can only differentiate between environmental noises, but not speech sounds.
- Once a user becomes implanted, they are immediately able to hear normally and engage in verbal conversation.
- Cochlear implants do not cure deafness.
- Cochlear implants weaken the skull, making the user more prone to skull damage/injury.
- Myth- There is a wide range of possibilities for how the implantation will impact the user's ability to perceive sound (varies from case to case).
- Myth- The patient requires time to heal from the surgery as well as learn how to comprehend and process these new sounds.
- Reality- Implants rather provide an ability to perceive sound.
- Myth- Users are cautioned to avoid contact sports due to the risk of dislodging the housing of the implantation, not due to a heightened risk for skull fractures.
So what does the future hold for cochlear implants? Scientists are working hard at developing fully implantable devices that would not require the user to wear any visible hardware. Currently in the US and Canada, several companies are working on this technological advancement. The device will be fully implanted under the skin near the ear. All processing of speech sounds will occur internally rather than through a visible device magnetically attached to one's head. This new technology will allow for even more benefits to the implant-user, such as swimming and showering with the device. Additionally it will allow for infants shortly after birth to receive cochlear implants as it does not rely of the mastoid bone to be developed(FYI- mastoid bone is located behind ear and connects to middle ear). Since it does not use a magnet, implant users may receive MRIs while wearing the device. They are expecting to perform many clinical trials over the next several years before making the new device available to the public.