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Information About Cochlear Implants

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Tuesday, January 6, 2009

What Is a Cochlear Implant?

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A cochlear implant is a small, complex electronic device that can help to provide a sense of sound to a person who is profoundly deaf or severely hard of hearing. The implant consists of an external portion that sits behind the ear and a second portion that is surgically placed under the skin. An implant does not restore normal hearing. Instead, it can give a deaf person a useful representation of sounds in the environment and help him or her understand speech.

How Does an Implant Work?

A cochlear implant is very different from a hearing aid. Hearing aids amplify sounds so they may be detected by damaged ears. Cochlear implants bypass damaged portions of the ear and directly stimulate the auditory nerve. Signals generated by the implant are sent by way of the auditory nerve to the brain, which recognizes the signals as sound. Hearing through a cochlear implant is different from normal hearing and takes time to learn or relearn. However, it allows many people to recognize warning signals, understand other sounds in the environment, and enjoy a conversation in person or by telephone.

Who Gets Cochlear Implants?

According to the Food and Drug Administration, at the end of 2006 more than 112,000 people worldwide had received implants. In the United States, roughly 23,000 adults and 15,500 children have received them.

Adults who have lost all or most of their hearing later in life often can benefit from cochlear implants. They learn to associate the signal provided by an implant with sounds they remember.

Cochlear implants, coupled with intensive post-implantation therapy, can help young children acquire speech, language and social skills. Most children who receive implants are between 2 and 6 years old. Early implantation provides exposure to sounds that can be helpful during the critical period when children learn speech and language skills. In 2000, the FDA lowered the age of eligibility to 12 months for one type of cochlear implant.

Need More Information?

For a list of organizations that can answer questions and provide printed or electronic information, go to this National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders Web site: http://www.nidcd.nih.gov/directory.

SOURCE: National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders


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