Irisada is an online platform dedicated to solutions for differently abled people. We also strive to build awareness in our communities and encourage discussion. Previous articles on hearing loss have been aimed at (hearing) parents of hard of hearing and deaf children. Articles have included: diagnosis, choosing a language to communicate in (part I and part II), keeping devices on kids, sports and activities and cochlear implants on children.
After doing a piece on the tough decision parents face when deciding whether or not to go forward with CI surgery, we wanted to take some time to address the same question for adults. So we spoke with Celeste Torres from Costa Rica, who got her cochlear implants aged 22, and Naama Tsach, PhD, from the American Cochlear Implant Alliance. We asked them about their experience with CI.
When is a Time to Consider CIs?
If you’ve come to this article, you probably have reason to believe CIs are the next step for you. Either because your hearing aids just aren’t strong enough or because you want to experience the hearing world as close as possible to a hearing person. If it’s getting harder and harder to partake in social events and you can’t hear your family in intimate settings, then maybe you’re considering cochlear implants.
As you discuss this with your doctors, you’ll want to ask about success rates in relation to your type of hearing loss and your geographical area, operation risks, (we mentioned some of them here), insurance and how long you’ll need to be operational at work again.
I’m About To Buy the Most Powerful Hearing Aid on the Market
In that case, Naama advises also checking if you are eligible for CI. She says some patients are continually readjusting hearing aids, which can be very frustrating, without realising that a more powerful option is available to them.
Also, as technology evolves, people who didn’t qualify a couple of years ago might now be eligible. “If you were rejected from being approved as a CI candidate two years ago, you may find out that today you would be a perfect candidate”, she says.
Does Late Implantation Mean I will not be able to Benefit from CIs?
Absolutely not, though there are different types of cases. For adults who were born deaf, or lost their hearing at a young age, the experience will be different than adults who lost their hearing later on in life.
Celeste was not implanted as a child, because the technology wasn’t adapted to her condition at the time. Aged 19, she found out she was eligible and started considering the operation. “I met other people, kids and adults, having success with their implants, and the idea of having one began to take root,” she says. Since the implant, her ability to interact with the hearing world has considerably improved.
How Long Will I Take to Adapt to My Implants and How Much Auditory Rehabilitation Will I need?
It all depends. People who lost their hearing later in life will learn how to use their cochlear implants faster. “People who used to hear before, have a large amount of spontaneous auditory learning based on their previous auditory experience,” says Naama. She stresses that they won’t recover “normal hearing” like they had before the implants but in general they will benefit from significantly improved hearing.
It’s important to go in knowing this, so as to not be disappointed by unrealistically high expectations. Rather, “they will be able to get sufficient auditory skills to have good communication in everyday life and to enjoy hearing.” Overall, she underlines how relieved these people are to recover their natural communication methods and hear again.
Others, like Celeste, who had pre-lingual deafness, get best results with more intensive and individualised auditory training, usually provided by Speech and Language Therapist. A few years on, Celeste has completely changed her relationship to music and language. She’s taking singing lessons and is learning several languages besides her native Spanish.
All this, thanks to very intensive therapy: three sessions per week during the first two months following implantation, then two sessions per week for the next six months. “Besides therapy, I listened to many audiobooks in Spanish and English alongside with their written versions,” she says. “At that time, it was hard to find any apps or computer programs in Spanish, so I had the help from my family to do hearing exercises, like differentiating vowels, Ling sounds, understanding long phrases, etc.”
Naama’s blog is a great source of information for anyone looking to understand (and practice) post-operation rehabilitation. She is a staunch believer in the importance of auditory rehabilitation for all patients.
What About My Residual Hearing?
The answer used to be simple: in almost every case, people with residual hearing would lose it when they moved to CIs. This is not necessarily the case anymore. The internal device and surgical techniques have changed, and today, many patients retain a significant amount of residual hearing. Ask your specialist what your specific operation will mean.
Celeste didn’t have a choice, she knew she would lose her residual hearing, but she still decided to go through with the operation. She still thought having CIs would give her the best quality of life. However, many people no longer have to sacrifice their residual hearing when opting for CIs.
How Should I Choose Which Brand of CIs to Wear?
The first point Naama makes is that “all of the CI devices provide excellent benefits.” She adds that “there are some differences in terms of features, and sometimes there may be a medical reason to get one over another so your physician will advise on that.”
In some cases, depending on where you live and what clinic you go to, you may not have a choice. We can only advise you to get several medical opinions and meet others who have been implanted before.
If you do have a choice, consider different features: syncing with phones, water safe processors, upgradability, which ones work best with your lifestyle. You’ll find lots of information on the CI manufacturors’ sites (though presented with a sales pitch), as well as different comparison charts (like this one from Cochlear Implant Help, and this one geared at parents of eligible children).
We hope this article has helped you through some of the questions in your decision process. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to these incredibly complex medical situations, and we hope you’ll find what suits you best.
- Read Dr Joseph Heng’s experience as a cochlear implantee
- More on the surgery itself and what to expect
- Check out the American Cochlear Implant Alliance’s page on CIs (this page is regularly updated)
Disclaimer: these blog posts are intended as exploratory articles. They do not constitute medical advice and cannot replace a medical opinion.