If you are blessed with the sense of hearing, can you even imagine what someone with hearing loss might go through? Nature intended for everyone to enjoy a good sense of hearing via both ears, but some people are born with hearing loss. Often, the condition is not detected until the child is a few years old, after which it takes even longer to find a solution.
Recently, I had the privilege of attending a wonderful event conducted by Cochlear™ India where the focus was on hearing loss, hearing loss related queries, Cochlear™ implants etc.
A few Cochlear™ recipients, people who had undergone a Cochlear™ implant surgery to regain their sense of hearing were also present. It was quite enlightening to hear doctors, experts, caregivers and patients recount their experiences before, during and after receiving the implant.
The emphasis was on being proactive in ensuring that an infant can hear, and if she has hearing loss, take action right away to seek treatment, as the sooner it starts, the better the chances of a better quality life.
Experts explained why getting Cochlear™ implants in both ears can make a world of difference and I am inclined to agree.
The event had specialists in the areas of early intervention, habilitation, perinatal medicine, genetic counselling, ENT surgery and implantation techniques.
There were detailed sessions, slideshows and video presentations on what is a Cochlear™ implant, how it works and how to choose the right one for your child.
Resource: How a cochlear implant works
Questions such as what is early intervention, and why it matters for an impaired child, early testing and its benefits for babies and toddlers, possibilities of future siblings being afflicted with hearing loss and many more were answered in detail via a panel discussion that invited questions from the audience. They addressed concerns about whether these devices are reliable, how the sound processor will enhance hearing, ease of use, support, safe and reliability.
We were also introduced to recipients of various age groups, with varied afflictions in addition to hearing loss, who talked about how their lives have improved dramatically with Cochlear™ implants. They are now able to live and travel independently. After the event, the audience was segregated into groups for one-on-one sessions with experts and medical professionals.
Why bilateral implants are recommended
The thing is, we hear in stereo and to experience everyday sounds around us, we need the ability to hear with both ears. For those who receive Cochlear™ implants, bilateral implantation, that means Cochlear™ implants for both ears is ideal to enjoy the complete hearing experience.
We have two ears. When only one ear works as it should, hearing sounds properly around us can be quite difficult. Even for those with perfect hearing, if one ear is temporarily blocked with wax, can you imagine how frustrating it is! Have you wondered why?
Our head acts as a barrier to the sound coming at us from different directions. When both ears hear perfectly, or when someone with hearing loss has bilateral Cochlear™ implants, it helps with 360 degree hearing – exactly the way it was meant to be.
Let me break it down further and explain the different between unilateral hearing – hearing with one ear and bilateral hearing – hearing with both ears.
- With unilateral hearing, sound is heard by only one ear. Hence, the brain finds it hard to process the distance and direction of the sound. This makes it challenging to locate the source of many sounds, or focus on a single voice in a crowd.
- With bilateral hearing, the ability to hear sound with both ears gives the effect of hearing in stereo. This means the individual can pick out soft or distant speech, separate a single voice from background noise and determine which direction sound is coming from, accurately.
There are life-changing benefits in detecting hearing loss early and making the decision to go in for bilateral implants.
Stimulating the second ear helps to build the critical neural pathways in the brain necessary for hearing. If the ear is not stimulated with either a hearing aid or Cochlear™ implant, these critical pathways can’t develop. Worst still, it has an impact on the individual’s ability to access future technology. Which means that the chances of success with treatment are unpredictable.
Some crucial benefits of bilateral implantation are:
· A feeling of being more connected
When an individual hears with both ears, it improves speech understanding even in noisy settings, such as at work, in the classroom or in a busy restaurant. Bilateral recipients shared their experience, mentioning that volume and tone sounds better with two implants compared with one. Naturally, right?
· More confidence
Hearing with both ears makes it easier to accurately perceive the source of sounds. This makes us feel more confident and safe in our daily routine, particularly in situations such as crossing the road.
· More balanced and relaxed
Bilateral implants can bring a more balanced perception of sound making it easier to hear every day sounds, including music, without the constant strain associated with a hearing loss.
· Peace of mind
If you are a parent with a child who has hearing loss, you’ll feel better knowing that your child can hear clearly at school. Studies show that children who only hear with one ear are ten times more likely to fail a grade than their bilaterally hearing peers. They’re also twice as likely to develop behavioural issues in the classroom.
· Cochlear™ – designs with bilateral hearing in mind
Cochlear™ designs all Nucleus® implant systems with bilateral hearing in mind, and there are many more benefits to choosing Cochlear™ for your or your child’s second ear.
Now that you have good reasons to consider bilateral implants to overcome hearing loss, naturally you have questions, just as I did. Here are some questions from those considering bilateral implants during Cochlear™’s event, that the doctors responded to:
Should I get both Cochlear™ implants simultaneously?
Some bilateral Cochlear™ implant recipients have both devices implanted during the same surgery. Others receive their second device later during different surgery. There are different reasons to influence a recipient’s decision. Best thing to do is discuss your options with your audiologist and Cochlear™ implant surgeon to find out which approach is right for you.
Why go in for a second Cochlear™ implant for myself / my child
A second Cochlear™ implant can improve hearing in difficult listening situations including classrooms, meetings, restaurants and other active, noisy places. The benefits of bilateral Cochlear™ implantation are: improved localisation, always having one ear positioned near the sound source, better speech understanding in noisy environments, etc. A second Cochlear™ implant can improve your child’s hearing in difficult listening situations. Research proves that children with unilateral hearing loss can find it difficult to listen and learn in the classroom. Hearing with both ears enables them to benefit academically and socially.
Should there be a gap between the first Cochlear™ implant and second one? How long?
The sooner the better. The benefits from the first implant are so dramatic for most people that they don’t consider the second one. But when two implants are received close together, or at the same time, the brain adapts quickly, and less auditory therapy is needed.
Can I use hearing aid in one ear and Cochlear™ implant in the other?
For some people, it may be possible to achieve binaural benefits using one Cochlear™ implant and one hearing aid. But with extended use of a Cochlear™ implant, the binaural benefits with the hearing aid disappears gradually. So a second Cochlear™ implant should be considered, even though it might be several years after the first implant.
How soon will I notice the benefits of having a second implant?
The hearing performance for some bilateral recipients is immediate as soon as the second Cochlear™ implant is switched on. For others, improvement is more gradual. The experience is unique to each person depending on various factors such as the duration of your hearing loss and how much experience you have with your first Cochlear™ implant or a hearing aid.
Are there any risks of having a second implant?
As with receiving one Cochlear™ implant, the bilateral implant procedure carries very low risk. Cochlear™’s implants offer maximum protection of your delicate Cochlear™ structures. Discuss this with your hearing professional.
Will there be compatibility issues with my existing Cochlear™ implant?
Choosing your second Cochlear™ implant system is just like choosing your first – you want optimal hearing performance and the peace of mind. That comes from exceptional implant reliability and knowing that you will have access to the latest sound processing technology upgrades for life. For example, you might want to upgrade the speech processor on your first ear to get the most from your hearing potential in both ears in the easiest possible way.
What kind of rehabilitation is involved with bilateral Cochlear™ implants?
Implanted children and adults must receive ongoing auditory, speech and language therapy, regardless of whether they have one implant or two. With more access to sound, therapists may use different approaches.
Since a young person’s hearing system develops in the early years and so, the input of sound through both ears is a critical factor in their normal development.
If you or your child suffers from hearing loss, I urge you to your doctor about bilateral implants today. Or get in touch with Cochlear™ India for more information.