Cochlear implants are electronic devices that are surgically implanted in the inner ear to provide sound perception to people who are severely deaf or hard of hearing. These implants have been a game-changer for many individuals and families who were previously unable to communicate with loved ones even with optimised hearing aids. Whilst hearing aids are wonderful and allow us to reconnect with the world around us, there can be moments when no matter how brilliant the hearing aid technology is, this excellent signal from the hearing aid still has to travel down your damaged cochlear that is deteriorating over time. This is where you may have heard the term the ‘bionic ear’. The bionic ear refers to the cochlear implant device replacing the function of the damaged inner ear. It is indeed, working beyond what remaining natural hearing one has, and it is the only way to restore hearing at the inner ear level that has been lost.

Implant technology is exciting. The precious moments of hearing children laughing, rain falling on the windowpane, telephone conversations and listening to television without subtitles has the potential to be back in the picture. Unlike hearing aids which makes sounds louder, cochlear implants do the work of the damaged parts of the inner ear (cochlear) to provide direct sound signals to the brain. In this article we will explore the benefits of cochlear implants and how they have improved the lives of people with hearing loss.

The good news is this vital game-changing hearing technology is readily available in Australia and Victorian Hearing has partnered with the Royal Eye and Ear Hospital to provide this service to the community. Cost is typically no barrier for implantable technology as there are many funding avenues including the following:

  • Public funding (i.e. state government funded and no out of pocket expenses)
  • Private health insurance  
  • Department of Veterans’ Affairs  

Three ways cochlear implants can change one’s life are:

  1. Improved hearing ability
    It will take time to adjust to the new sounds and for the brain to learn how to hear again through your new bionic ear. However the improved hearing ability potential lies in the technology bypassing the damaged part of the ear and directly stimulating the auditory nerve. This direct stimulation increases the potential for severe or profound hearing loss individuals to perceive sound and speech more clearly.   
  2. Increased independence and quality of life
    When we can hear better from each ear, we feel balanced and safer in our surroundings. We are better able to localise where sounds are coming from, making it easier to respond and participate in conversations. Hearing better also increases our confidence to pick up the phone, make that call or go out and socialise once more without feeling isolated.  As one implant user said, “I got my life back”.
  3. Take advantage of future technology
    The cochlear implant system has two components. The implant that is surgically implanted in the inner ear (cochlear), and the outside component that is worn either behind the ear or off the ear held on by a magnet. Cochlear implants are designed to be backwards compatible. What this means is that individuals can take advantage of technology advancements without having to worry about the surgically implanted component. Whilst the internal cochlear implant stays in the head, the outside component called a “processor” can be upgraded to provider better listening in noise, include Bluetooth technology and future advancements that are yet to be invented. That way you are never missing out on having the best hearing technology at your hands. Therefore, the most important step when  consider implants is to consider implanting them early as it is highly advantageous to have a healthy stimulated hearing nerve through an implant, than to wait a decade under the misconception technology needs to improve before you can obtain one.

In conclusion, if you or your loved one wear hearing aids and are still struggling to hear over the telephone, often asking for repeats, find social events challenging which then leads them to withdraw from group settings, it is important to have a discussion with your audiologist about having an implant assessment. At Victorian Hearing we host Discover Hearing Implant Information Sessions that you and your family can attend. Take the first steps of discovering a world of sound that is available to you.