A cochlear implant is a small electronic device that helps those who are profoundly deaf or have severe hearing loss to interpret sounds and understand speech. They do not restore hearing, nor do they work in the same manner as hearing aids do.
The implant provides a sense of sound to a person through internal and external parts that work together to bypass damaged portions of the ear and directly stimulate the auditory nerve. The signals made by the implant are sent to the brain, which then interprets the sound.
How Do Cochlear Implants Work?
Cochlear implants require both surgery and intense therapy in order to be effective. The implant itself is made up of four different parts, both external and internal:
- A microphone to pick up sounds from the environment
- A speech processor (computer) that creates sound signals and sends them to a transmitter
- A transmitter worn above the ear that sends the signal to the surgically implanted internal receiver/stimulator
- A receiver/stimulator that receives signals from the processor and converts them into electric impulses
- An electrode array that takes the signals and sends them to the auditory nerve, stimulating it; from there the transmitted information is sent to the brain to interpret the signals into meaningful information
Who Gets Cochlear Implants?
Children (12 months and older) and adults can benefit from cochlear implants if:
- They have moderate (understanding speech is difficult in background noise) to profound hearing loss (only some loud noises can be heard) in both ears
- They have profound hearing loss in one ear
- Hearing aids are found to be ineffective
- They do not score well on sentence recognition tests done by the cochlear implant audiologist