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Is a Cochlear Implant the Right Hearing Loss Solution for Me?

Thursday, July 16, 2020

three adult siblings, two men and one woman, who are all AB cochlear implant recipients

Hearing loss can cause feelings of isolation, frustration, depression, and fatigue. It has even been tied to cognitive decline. While one of the most common conditions in adults, hearing loss is also one of the most undertreated conditions. In fact, research indicates that less than 20% of those who could benefit from hearing devices such as hearing aids actually try them.

There are many reasons why people do not seek treatment for their hearing loss. Denial, embarrassment, cost, and a lack of understanding of available solutions are just a few of them.

Hearing aids or cochlear implants?

The most common solution for hearing loss is hearing aids. Hearing aids rely on the natural auditory pathway in order to amplify sound. For mild to moderate hearing loss, they are often enough to help overcome the inner ear damage and provide adequate access to sound. However, when the hearing loss is severe or profound, it often means that the damage is too great for hearing aids to help. In these cases, the sounds heard though hearing aids are often distorted and lack the clarity needed for understanding speech.

A cochlear implant can provide a solution when hearing aids are no longer enough. When the ear’s natural auditory pathway is compromised by extensive damage in the inner ear, a cochlear implant can bypass the damage and restore access to sound.

A cochlear implant can provide a solution when hearing aids are no longer enough. 

Cochlear implants do require a minor, out-patient surgery to have the device implanted into the inner ear. The surgery and recovery are very straightforward, and most people can go back to their usual activities within a week or two. After surgery, you will need to wait until activation or “A-Day” before you will be able to use your new “ear.” This waiting period may be two to four weeks, depending on your CI center.

At activation, you receive the external components (processor) that will communicate with your cochlear implant and then you can begin your journey to hearing. I call it a journey, because it does take time for your brain to learn to listen in a new way.

For someone like myself, cochlear implants can provide a way back to the world of sound. While they don’t “cure” deafness, my bionic ears allow me to participate fully in all of life’s activities. So much so, that most people are shocked when they find out I’m actually deaf. Being able to hear again has allowed me to return to work. I can talk on the phone, I enjoy going to movies and listening to music, and I have conversations with ease. The isolation that my deafness caused has completely evaporated.

Questions to ask yourself

Answer the following questions to determine if a cochlear implant might be right for you:

  • Are you using appropriately-fit hearing aids, but still struggle to have conversations with people in a quiet environment?
  • Do you ask people to repeat themselves multiple times and still don’t understand what they’ve said?
  • Do you avoid answering the telephone for fear of not understanding the person on the other end?
  • Do you no longer enjoy social activities like going out to dinner or taking in a movie because you feel left out of the conversation?
  • Do you have trouble communicating when it’s dark?
  • Have you become an expert at “faking it” – pretending to know what the conversation is about even though you have no idea what you just agreed to?
two children whispering to their mother who is a cochelar implant recipient

If you can identify with any of the statements above, maybe it’s time to consider cochlear implants.

Where to go from here

Your first step should be to reach out to your local Cochlear Implant Consumer Specialist, who will be happy answer all your questions and  guide you through the process. Your specialist will be there for you as a helpful resource even after you receive your CI, so it’s one of the best connections to make early in the process.

It’s also a good idea to have an updated audiogram and make sure your current hearing aids are functioning properly. Then you will be put in contact with a cochlear implant center to begin the evaluation process. It does take a few weeks to a couple of months to complete the necessary steps before you can have the surgery and be on your way to rediscovering the world of sound!

I know this process can feel extremely scary. I’ve been through it myself – twice! My cochlear implants have changed my life in ways that I never thought possible. I have never had a moment of regret that I went through this. In fact, the only common regret I have ever heard from people with cochlear implants is that they wished they hadn’t waited so long.

The only common regret I have ever heard from people with cochlear implants is that they wished they hadn’t waited so long.

If you ask me, life is so much better with sound. Take the first step and find out if you are a candidate for cochlear implants.

Rachel Potvin
Written by Rachel Potvin

Rachel Potvin

Rachel has lived with progressive hearing loss (hereditary) for most of her life. She starting using bilateral hearing aids in her early teens and received her first Advanced Bionics CI in 2016 and her second nine months later. In 2018, she moved her family to Ohio to join Advanced Bionics as a Cochlear Implant Consumer Specialist. In her spare time, she loves reading and outdoor activities like camping and hiking, and is rarely found without a cup of coffee in her hand.

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