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Effectiveness of Cochlear Implants and Hearing Aids

When CIs and Hearing Aids 'Don't Work'


Updated May 10, 2009

What We Need is a 'New God.'

Perhaps I use the term “new God” loosely. I do things like that. What I am talking about is a need for someone—perhaps a group of someone's—to help us with the process of hearing well again. What do I mean? For some of us the effectiveness of a cochlear implant or a hearing aid is nothing short of 'a miracle.' For others of us, the 'miracle' takes some time and a great deal of effort.

But first let me give you my background so that you will understand how my marvelous knowledge about the topic has developed.

I lost my hearing starting in late 1954. I did not notice it myself so much until after I got out of the Army. It was then that people began telling me that it was evident that there was a loss and I should seek the services of an ear doctor.

Over the years I purchased many hearing aids. At the time of each purchase, it was evident that the current aid no longer served the purpose as my hearing had deteriorated beyond the aid’s use.

Eventually, I had an operation "installing" a cochlear implant. A month after the operation, I was hooked up. Right away, I found it sounded funny.

I had been missing high-pitch sounds for so long. Now that I heard them, they tended to overpower the low-pitch sounds coming into my brain. The result was that everyone sounded like Donald Duck.

Over the next few weeks my brain sorted out a sense of balance and people sounded normal to me again.

Today, in addition to my cochlear implant hardware, I belong to three different hearing-loss support groups. As a result of participation in these groups, I have been exposed to a wide range of hearing-impaired people who have different problems and I have learned a lot about how we, as users, adjust to our respective situations.

It is not abnormal to hear someone complain like the following:

  1. I used to wear two hearing aids, but after a while, they were useless so I stopped wearing them.
  2. I have a cochlear implant but it does not work. I really had high hopes for the implant based upon what other people have told me about them.
Now, an audiologist or other 'hearing professional' listening to these comments would immediately understand the problem of the individual with the useless hearing aids. The person has likely suffered a further loss in the ability to receive sound. A sort of simple solution for this is to fit the individual with a stronger set of hearing aids.

What I would like to do is look, for a moment, at the scenario of fitting new hearing aids. First, a test is made of the person’s hearing ability. This, we know (well some of us will know) is a test of an individual’s ability to recognize tones which fall within the range of acceptable speech patterns. This test is usually performed without (though sometimes with) the current hearing aids in place.

A best-case scenario here is that the current hearing aids are simply adjusted. A worse-case is that the person will need to purchase a new set of aids—which cost dearly. Or, they may need a cochlear implant.

Well, regardless of the solution in this case (adjusted or new hearing aids or cochlear implant), what is to be done in the event that the patient still has trouble recognizing good conversation?

Certainly, this is not an unusual occurrence. "I passed the audiologist's tests, but when I talk to others, I fail to comprehend. It is worse when I watch television. Thank God for closed captioning!" (Actually, I have heard people complain about captioning as well because they cannot read as fast as the information is presented on the screen).

Similar problems occur with cochlear implants. I am referring to the person who has recently been ‘hooked-up’ but knows that all he/she hears is noise. Their conclusion is that the implant does not work for them.

This does happen. In fact it happens too frequently. However, when people who fit into this category return to their audiologist, they may walk away still frustrated. They may complain to the implant manufacturer who assures them that nothing is wrong physically.

It seems that what noone tells them is that it takes a lot of practice to relearn how to hear through the cochlear implant. By "a lot of practice," I mean possibly several hours a day for perhaps several months before the new implantee can "translate" the 'noises' into words.

The best approach towards advancement that may be achieved—for both the hearing aid user and the cochlear implantee—then is through joining a support group. I am talking about a support group in which the person identifies his/her individual problems and others in the group join into conversation offering advice.

Sometimes people in the support group are a happy little bunch that really has had no trouble. I mean people like me. In the beginning I was a happy little person wandering around with my new hearing ability after my cochlear implant. But slowly and surely I began to recognize that I still did not hear everything.

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