Cochlear Implants Fact Sheet
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Cochlear Implants at UK HealthCare
The Audiology Program offers a full range of audiology services including a comprehensive cochlear implant program providing services to patients of all ages.
What is a cochlear implant?
A cochlear implant is an electronic device that bypasses damaged structures in the inner ear and directly stimulates the auditory nerve. This allows some deaf individuals to learn to hear and interpret sounds and speech. The implant is surgically placed under the skin behind the ear and consists of four parts.
- A microphone, which picks up sound from the environment.
- A speech processor, which selects and arranges sounds picked up by the microphone.
- A transmitter and receiver/stimulator, which receives signals from the speech processor and converts them into electric impulses.
- Electrodes, which collect impulses from the stimulator and send them to the brain.
The microphone on the external part of the cochlear implant electronically picks up sounds from the outside environment. When the sounds are located, the signals from the microphone are sent to the surgically implanted receiver. The receiver processes the signaled sounds and the patient is able to hear.
Adults who have lost all or most of their hearing later in life may benefit from cochlear implants, as they can often associate the sounds made through an implant with sounds they remember. This may help them understand speech without visual cues or systems such as lip-reading or sign language.
Young children may also be candidates for implants. Cochlear implants, along with intensive therapy, can help young children acquire speech, language, developmental and social skills. The best age for implantation is still being debated, but most children who receive implants are between 2 and 6 years old.
Surgery and fitting
Cochlear implant surgery is typically performed under general anesthesia and can be an inpatient or outpatient procedure. During the surgery, the surgeon exposes the mastoid bone behind the ear canal and drills a small channel to the inner ear. The electrodes are placed into the inner ear and the receiver coil is placed in the bone behind the ear. The skin is closed over the receiver/stimulator. A pressure bandage is placed to reduce swelling around the incision. Most patients go home the same day or spend no more than one night in the hospital.
After four to six weeks, which allows time for healing around the surgical site, the fitting process takes place. During the initial activation, the headpiece and microphone are placed over the implant. The speech processor is connected to the headpiece and the audiologist's computer. The audiologist activates the electrodes individually and the patient indicates when sound is detected at a comfortable level. For babies and young children, audiologists will use techniques similar to behavioral audiometry to determine hearing sensitivity. These measurements are used to program the speech processor for the implant recipient.
Device programming is performed more often during the first months of implant use. As the listener adapts to their new hearing, the device will require adjustments to provide sound stimulation. Over time, the visits will occur on a less frequent basis.
Long-term postoperative rehabilitation should include training that focuses on communication behaviors, listening skills and speech production. In addition, children should return to the implant center as needed for monitoring and program adjustments of the speech processor. This is typically every few months during the first year, then less frequently. Cochlear implant recipients should expect to require lifelong services from professionals trained to support their implants.
To find out more
UK HealthCare Ear Nose & Throat Care
Audiology, Communicative Disorders Website
National Institute on Deafness and Other
Communications Disorders (NIDCD)
* Source: National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. Cochear implants.
www.nidcd.nih.gov. Retrieved July 20, 2006.
Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. Cochlear implants.