Hearing loss affects more than just sound. We routinely get eyes tested, but tend to overlook hearing loss. Each year, crores of Indian children are born deaf and later detected with hearing loss. Early diagnosis means early intervention and a better quality life. A hearing screening is a very simple process and takes a maximum of ten minutes.
On March 3, 2017, we celebrated World Hearing Day with a delightful meeting with the Cochlear India Team, their global ambassador Mr. Brett Lee, and Cochlear™ implant recipient, Komal. The meet included parents and children who were invited to undergo a complimentary hearing screening, and to raise awareness of the importance of early screening for hearing loss.
Why early treatment is critical
Every parent wants her child to develop to her full potential. It can be devastating to discover that a child is deaf or has hearing loss. Luckily, it doesn’t have to be a life-sentence without sound and/or speech. The right treatment means the possibility of hearing again and leading a normal life, in a mainstream school and enjoying life just like their peers.
Also, hearing is crucial for a child’s vital speech and language skills. Even minimal hearing loss can lead to learning and behavioral problems limiting the child as she goes through school, and beyond. The sooner the child can hear and use spoken language, the better her chances of overcoming the disadvantages of hearing loss—and reaching her full potential in life.
After a brief presentation about hearing loss, I had the opportunity to meet and talk to Komal, a young Cochlear™ implant recipient in her sixth grade, accompanied by her mother. This was followed by a long discussion with her doctor, Dr. Shankar Medikeri.
A Ccchlear implant is an effective and long-term hearing solution for people with moderate to profound hearing loss. It is an electronic medical device that does the work of damaged parts of the inner ear (cochlea) to provide sound signals to the brain.
The truth is, for those of us who enjoy the gift of hearing and take it for granted, it is practically impossible to imagine what it feels like to NOT hear anything at all. As you know, the ear, nose and throat are connected and a loss of hearing can often mean a loss of the sense of smell and the power of speech. Just walk into one of your favorite places with your ears and nose plugged, you’ll see what I mean.
Komal and her mom gave us an insight into their experience. As with most families, they too had waited to see if her sense of hearing would magically be restored, but were wise enough to visit their doctor for a checkup. They were then advised to address the issue with a cochlear implant that would enable her hear.
The diagnosis that the person needs a cochlear implant involves a series of steps to check the wellness of their inner ear structure and treat it accordingly.
Often, the patient is first fitted with a hearing aid to ensure that they indeed need an implant, after which the treatment plan is discussed with the patient’s family. Once the decision is made, a minor surgery is involved to embed the implant above the ear. This is a permanent implant, with the only variable being the processor, since better and better versions are available all the time to optimize hearing.
Komal has the latest sound processor Kanso™ in her Cochlear™ implant. Sleek, smooth, and available in various colors to match attire/hair color, just like a fashion accessory. I felt around Komal’s head and couldn’t find the implant right away—so well was it camouflaged. She said she was comfortable. She is a confident child who enjoys school and played sports, including swimming.
I couldn’t help smiling when I recalled my college days, when I had a two-hour bus ride and listened to music on a Walkman—and my bus mates assumed it was a hearing aid and yelled to make themselves heard.
I spoke at length with Dr Medikeri before Mr Brett Lee arrived. Let me recap the gist for you:
- Every recipient of a Cochlear™ implant sees different benefits—this is based on the length of time they’ve had the hearing loss before the implant, the extent of hearing loss and the status of their inner ear, and of course, overall health. Another important fact is their response to the training they receive after the implant.
- Parents must be fully involved after the implant, since this period is crucial for the child to get accustomed to hearing, especially since they’re unfamiliar with the sounds they will hear. Practice makes perfect. Recipients also go through speech therapy.
- Unlike traditional hearing aids that amplify, or make sounds louder, a Cochlear™ implant system directly stimulates the cochlea hearing nerve, bypassing the damaged area of the hearing pathway.
- Can children who have cochlear implants swim? Of course. They just have to wear a cover on the implant to protect the processor. In fact, there’s nothing that someone with the implant cannot do.
- What about traveling, security checks at airports? Every recipient has a card that has the implant’s serial number and other information to help them make the process smooth.
- Surgery for fixing the implant happens under general anaesthesia and takes about an hour. The patient is under observation for a couple of days before being discharged. Then, the implant is switched on only after a month or so after the recipient gets used to having it. What a special moment this must be!! This is followed by therapy to introduce the recipient to sound and speech.
Mr Brett Lee joined us for the meeting and introduced the latest processor, Kanso™, after which we had a lively Q&A session with him.
Kanso™ is a cute off-the-ear hearing solution and hardly noticeable, as I discovered when I felt around Komal’s head. It is the smallest and lightest sound processor available and easy to use: you can set and forget it. It is equipped with SmartSound® iQ with SCAN and dual microphones. The design is robust without any cables to worry about. Using it is as easy as pressing the single on/off button, place Kanso™ on the head and enjoy Cochlear™’s industry-leading Nucleus® 6 technology making speech sounds clear especially in a noisy environment.
While a hearing test is mandatory at birth in other parts of the world, in India, it is sadly not. Therefore, I urge you to ensure that your child gets a hearing test as early as possible. I know most parents think it is okay to wait just a little longer before seeking professional medical help—but that little time can make a huge difference in the child’s life.
Forget about the stigma associated with getting that hearing test. It is terrible to delay treatment, especially when you realize later that the delay made the difference between early intervention and possible hearing loss resolution, and the need to wear a device lifelong. And even if the resolution is not possible, it is only fair to give your child the gift of hearing, don’t you think?
Here are some useful links:
How to deal with hearing loss
Aural rehabilitation in children with hearing loss
A video that explains what is a Cochlear™ implant
Personal stories of Cochlear™ implant recipients
What is Nucleus 6?
What are the wireless accessories?