When people notice they are struggling to hear as well as they did in the past, particularly if it is a notable difference, the best first step is to consult a specialist and take part in audiology tests to determine the total extent of hearing loss.
This can sometimes lead to a recommendation by a doctor of some form of hearing aid, which can range from traditional induction loop systems to sophisticated smart aids that can be almost imperceptible to others. They act as an amplifier
However, for people with substantial hearing loss, a different approach is needed, and that can take the form of a surgical cochlear implant.
As it is a surgical procedure, it is essential to know what it is, how it works and how to know if it is the right decision for you.
What Is A Cochlear Implant?
Unlike a hearing aid, which amplifies external noise to compensate for a mild or moderate loss of hearing, a cochlear implant is a surgically installed electronic medical device that directly stimulates the cochlear nerve in your inner ear with electrical pulses.
The process begins with a microphone installed typically behind the ear that is connected to a processor that converts the sound waves into a digital signal.
This is then sent to the transmitter on the outer part of the head which forwards them to an inner receiver connected to it via a magnet which sends them to electrodes that stimulate the cochlear nerve.
It is essential to know that whilst it provides a sense of hearing, what you will hear will sound different than natural hearing will, and this can take some time to adjust.
Because of this, certain cases are better treated with a cochlear implant than others.
Young Children Born Deaf
If a child is born deaf, they should have a cochlear implant as soon as they are big enough and healthy enough to have the surgery. The youngest baby to have one was three months old and due to the long-term complications caused by meningitis, she needed an implant quickly.
If it is undertaken early enough it is unlikely to affect speech development, and the mapping and adjusting process for what would be different sounds is less of an adjustment. If you are not adjusting your expectations for how a particular voice should sound it is easier to experience the aural world.
Adults Who Have Recently Lost Their Hearing
Adults and older children who have either suddenly lost their hearing or a gradual loss of hearing has reached the level where a hearing aid is not helping are ideal candidates for a cochlear implant.
If you have experience listening and speaking for many years, there is an adjustment that needs to be made as the same voices you are used to will sound profoundly different in a way that sounds either electronic or cartoony depending on the person.
However, over time your brain will adjust and voices will sound normal.
Adults and children who have been deaf for a long time, or children who have suffered from meningitis and the ossification of their inner ear has advanced to a certain level will have more mixed results that will take longer.