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What does a cochlear implant do?

Thursday, June 9, 2022

A cochlear implant (CI) system is a hearing device designed for children and adults with severe or profound hearing loss. It consists of an external part worn on the ear, and an internal part implanted through a surgical procedure. Together, these parts help an individual hear by bypassing their damaged inner ear and stimulating the hearing nerve with tiny pulses of electrical current.

The internal part is surgically implanted into the inner ear and includes a thin electrode array. The external part includes a headpiece that attaches to the head via a magnet, and a sound processor, which is a small device either worn on the ear (similar to a hearing aid), or it can be clipped onto a shirt.

A diagram showing how the Naída CI Marvel cochlear implant sound processor works

The microphones pick up sounds and the sound processor converts those sounds to digital signals. These signals are sent to the headpiece, which is magnetically connected to the implant and is fully removable. The headpiece transmits the signals to the connected implant and into the inner ear. The hearing nerve receives signals from the implant and sends impulses to the brain, which interprets them as sounds. The cochlear implant is able to bypass the damaged part of the ear, making it a great solution for individuals who find that hearing aids are not giving them the help they need.

Connecting us in meaningful ways

We are wired to form connections with others. As the world starts to open back up, we find ourselves appreciating the moments of connection that we once took for granted. We know that cochlear implants don’t just help people hear better. They help people engage better with their loved ones, feel their best, and connect more with the world around them. 

Research has shown that cochlear implant use can lead to an improved quality of life. People with CIs report improved self-esteem, a return to daily activity, greater employment opportunities and other economic benefits, and a richer social network with increased social interactions.1  Cochlear implants are high-tech devices that can help people hear better in noise, stream phone calls and media, and help them return to the activities they enjoy doing.

Research has shown that cochlear implant use can lead to an improved quality of life.

— Stephanie Johnson, AuD

Hearing in noise with a cochlear implant

Many people with hearing loss say that hearing in noisy environments, like restaurants, family gatherings, or work meetings, is their biggest concern. Today’s cochlear implants have the ability to automatically adjust and customize sound based on the many different environments a person is in. This means that as they move from having coffee with a friend, to playing a round of golf, to joining a virtual meeting, the cochlear implants automatically adjust their features and settings to help them hear their best.

Staying active with a cochlear implant

Modern cochlear implants have features that keep people active and continuing to do the things they love to do. Waterproof batteries and waterproof microphones on the headpiece allow them to enjoy the same great sound quality while swimming, and this means that bath time for little ones can be filled with laughter and language-learning opportunities, since they have access to sound. Waterproof batteries also keep devices secure and minimize worries while they exercise, spend time at the beach, or complete other rugged activities.

Waterproof batteries and waterproof microphones on the headpiece allow them to enjoy the same great sound quality while swimming

— Stephanie Johnson, AuD

Hands-free phone calls and streaming with a cochlear implant

Over the past few years, we’ve seen an increase in smartphone adoption. Almost 80% of adults ages 50+ use their smartphone and tablets to stay connected and stream videos.2 Some sound processors provide wireless connectivity to all Bluetooth devices, meaning that people with CIs can stream shows and music, and video chat from any Bluetooth device. Making hands-free phone calls is also convenient, as some cochlear implants have microphones that can pick up the user’s voice and send it via Bluetooth to the person on the other line. 

Sound keeps us immersed in our world

When we think about how hearing technology should work, we know that it should not only help us hear better, but it should anticipate our needs in any situation and support us automatically. It should make connecting with others easier and more convenient. 

If you have untreated hearing loss or if you find that your current hearing technology is not meeting your needs, talk to your hearing healthcare professional about your options, so that you can get back to forming meaningful connections with those around you again. Everyone deserves to connect to their loved ones, to the world around them, and to a full life of sound. 

  1. Sousa, A., Couto, M., & Martinho-Carvalho, A. (2018). Quality of life and cochlear implant: results in adults with postlingual hearing loss. Braz J Otorhinolaryngol, 84(4), 494-499. 

  2. AARP Research. (2020). Older Adults Keep Pace on Tech Usage. Retrieved from https://www.aarp.org/research/topics/technology/info-2019/2020-technology-trends-older-americans.html

Stephanie Johnson AuD
Written by Stephanie Johnson

Stephanie Johnson AuD

Stephanie Johnson is the Manager of Global Education and Training at Advanced Bionics. She and her team teach recipients, candidates, families, and hearing healthcare professionals about cochlear implant technology. Stephanie received degrees in audiology from SUNY Geneseo and the University at Buffalo in New York. She currently resides in Washington, D.C. with her husband and son.

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