Referring Patients for a Cochlear Implant

cochlear implants

Laurel was a 42-year-old promoter for a Memphis band. When she first visited me, she told me she was dealing with progressively worsening hearing loss. She’d been wearing hearing aids from my office for the last 10 years, but her hearing loss had advanced with regular exposure to concert music at work.

So she did what most of us do.

She went online to learn more about treatment for severe hearing loss and found a small surgically implanted electronic hearing device called a cochlear implant. This FDA-approved instrument has a microphone to pick up sound and a processor to help her brain understand what’s she’s hearing.

Through her research, Laurel found out that an estimated five to 10% of adults in the US could benefit from a cochlear implant. But only around one percent have one.

Laurel didn’t want to be a statistic, so she decided to talk to her trusted audiologist about this option. That’s me!

Is Laurel a Good Candidate for a Cochlear Implant?

When Laurel came to see me at Professional Audiological Services in Memphis, TN, to get her regular hearing checkup, I told her she might be a good candidate.

A good candidate for a cochlear implant:

  • Can be any age. Doctors often recommend cochlear implants for pre-lingual children who are hard of hearing. But some adults with severe hearing loss may also benefit.
  • May have lost their hearing due to loud noise, disease, harmful medication, or trauma.
  • Wears hearing aids but still struggles to understand speech.
  • Struggles to follow conversations with any background noise.
  • Has trouble hearing at work, home, socially, leisure, etc.

I explained to Laurel that cochlear implants don’t restore hearing. Instead, they help the brain understand what the device is “hearing” through electrical pulses. My office arranged a referral from her primary to an ENT surgeon who specializes in cochlear implants.

Laurel Goes in for Surgery

Her surgeon performed the same-day surgery in an operating room at an area hospital under general anesthesia. The doctor made an incision behind her ear to insert the internal part of the device. Because there were no complications, her daughter could take her home with pain medicine and care instructions once she was awake.

Laurel Completes Recovery

Laurel’s recovery time lasted around five weeks. During that time, she had pain and some swelling around the surgery site. She would sometimes feel a popping and dizzy sensation. Her doctors told her that this was all normal.

They Activate Laurel’s Cochlear Implant

The device remained off until the surgery site healed. But now, it was time to activate the device.

When the device came on, the sound seemed digitized and unclear. It wasn’t until the doctor calibrated the machine that more familiar sounds emerged. Because Laurel had been able to hear before, she understood better than a child who has always been hard of hearing might.

Laurel Begins Speech Therapy Rehabilitation

Cochlear implants don’t instantly allow a person to hear, especially if they were unable to hear before, so Laurel’s doctor referred her to a speech therapist, with whom she practiced various exercises to train the brain to distinguish between sounds more effectively. Again, because Laurel had heard for most of her life, her rehabilitation only took around six months. It can take two or more years for a pre-lingual child who has never heard well.

But Laurel certainly recognized the value of these visits. Each week she found she could understand the sound more completely and get more use out of the device.

Laurel Experiences Greater Quality of Life

For those with hearing loss, hearing aids can significantly improve their quality of life. But if hearing loss is severe and/or progressing rapidly, a cochlear implant may be a good option.

Laurel is delighted she can talk on the phone again, understand speech with background noise, and use Bluetooth and other accessories to enhance the function of her implant.

Maybe you’re like Laurel. You’ve been wearing a hearing aid for years. But you’re still struggling to understand those around you. An implantable device may provide you with better alternatives. To get a hearing evaluation and discuss hearing options, please give my office a call.