If you are living with severe hearing impairment or hearing loss due to inner-ear damage, you may benefit from a cochlear implant.
A cochlear implant bypasses certain parts of the ear and directly delivers sound signals to the auditory nerve. If you think may benefit from this type of hearing solution, a cochlear implant evaluation can determine if it’s the most appropriate choice for your needs.
If you happen to be an existing implant user, you’ll need to have regular mapping (programming) appointments with an audiologist to properly adjust your cochlear device.
What is a Cochlear Implant?
A cochlear implant alters the normal hearing process. It works with the assistance of a sound processor that’s placed behind the ear. This is what captures sound signals and transmits them to an implanted receiver located below skin behind the affected ear. Signals are then sent to implanted electrodes. These signals then stimulate the auditory nerve, which is then responsible for taking sound impulses to the brain so they can be interpreted.
What Is a Cochlear Implant Evaluation?
Before an implant is recommended, patients need to undergo a thorough cochlear implant evaluation. The assessment process typically begins with tests that check hearing levels in both ears along with speech and word recognition. Balance is sometimes tested as well. Additional steps usually include a physical examination of both ears that includes overall hearing/ear health. Psychological testing may be done to assess the potential user’s ability to use the implant correctly.
For patients already wearing hearing aids, testing may be done to determine if other types of hearing aids or different hearing aid technology may produce improved results. Generally, the criteria for a cochlear implant includes:
- Significant sensorineural hearing loss
- Not benefiting from any type of traditional hearing aids
- Not having any underlying health issues that may causes issues during implantation
- Experiencing high-frequency sensorineural hearing loss
- Having realistic expectations with what cochlear implants can/cannot do
What Happens During Mapping Appointments?
Mapping is the process of programming your implant. During a typical appointment, an audiologist adjusts input to the electrodes linked to the implant. The goal is to create a better user experience for the wearer. The processor in the implant is connected to a computer that will be used to adjust the settings based on the user’s responses to a series of beeps.
Adjustments are made to both T (threshold) and C (comfortable loudness) levels for the implant’s electrodes. T levels are the softest sounds that can be heard by the user. C levels refer to how comfortable the user is with the level of amplification. Additional speech perception testing is often done after adjustments are made to determine how well the setting changes worked after mapping.
Periodic mapping plays a big role in how beneficial cochlear implants are for users. It’s important for patients to come to mapping appointments:
- Well-rested and well-fed (for children and infants)
- With all implant accessories
- With notes and observations about hearing experiences since implantation
- With any questions written down
Results with a cochlear implant will vary based on factors such as age of the patient, the source of hearing impairment, and whether or not underlying health issues are involved. Research suggests that children who receive implants have better results with speech development and hearing abilities. Adults that had a shorter experience with profound hearing loss prior to implantation tend to experience more desirable results. An audiologist will explain the results of your evaluation to help you make a decision that’s right for you.