M22 — June 2012 — Beyond a Hearing Aid
Intro: Imagine what life would be like if you lost your hearing. No music, no sounds of nature, no listening to the voices of your loved ones. But some people with profound hearing loss do have options. Cochlear implants, in the right patients, offer the chance to hear again.
"I'm an old time radio fan. This is what I'm listening to right now. It's called America at War."
That may seem like an unusual hobby for a woman who can't hear.
"I'm deaf now."
Barbara Daly's hearing started to fade when she was in her 20's. Over the years it got worse.
"I could be sitting right here and there's a fire alarm right above me, and I would never know it was going off."
But because of the type of hearing loss Barbara suffered, she was a candidate for cochlear implants.
"A cochlear implant is a technology for people who have severe, profound hearing loss. It can bypass the damage in the inner ear and allow those folks to hear well."
Sarah Oakley is a clinical audiologist at Mayo Clinic. She says normal hearing works in this way: your outer ear collects sound waves which vibrate the ear drum and middle ear bones called ossicles. The vibrations continue into the inner ear where they stimulate fluid and tiny hairs which send electrical signals to the brain.
After age 40 our hearing can start to fade. Hearing aids can help, but after a certain point they don't help because they can't overcome the damage.
"In that situation, a cochlear implant is a good solution because it can bypass the damage."
There are two parts of a cochlear implant. The outside part is a little computer that picks up sound and processes it. The inside part, which is implanted by a surgeon, receives the processed sound and converts it to an electrical signal that stimulates the hearing nerve.
"There's always the anxiety that it's not going to work."
When the first of two implants was turned on, Barbara heard nothing. Then a crackling noise like radio static.
"All of a sudden it started happening. I was actually hearing."
If Barbara takes off her processor,
"It's just like a hearing aid over my ear."
She can't hear. So Lexi the hearing dog helps her around the house to let Barbara know if, say, the oven timer's going off.
"What is it? Good girl!"
Cochlear implants are not perfect. But with implants, Barbara says her world has come alive. And she can once again listen to old time radio.
For Medical Edge, I'm Vivien Williams.
Most people who get cochlear implants get one device. Barbara got two. One for each ear. Sarah Oakley says bilateral implantation, meaning you implant two, may offer better sound quality and localization.
Cochlear implants are not right for everyone with hearing loss. Talk to your health care provider about options that are best for you.
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