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Cochlear implants

A cochlear implant is a small, complex electronic device that can help to provide a sense of sound to a person who is profoundly deaf or severely hard-of-hearing. The implant consists of an external portion that sits behind the ear and a second portion that is surgically placed under the skin.

Want to know more about cochlear implants?

Illustration of cochlear implant.

An implant (see figure) has the following parts:

  • A microphone, which picks up sound from the environment.
  • A speech processor, which selects and arranges sounds picked up by the microphone.
  • A transmitter and receiver/stimulator, which receive signals from the speech processor and convert them into electric impulses.
  • An electrode array, which is a group of electrodes that collects the impulses from the stimulator and sends them to different regions of the auditory nerve.

An implant does not restore normal hearing. Instead, it can give a deaf person a useful representation of sounds in the environment and help him or her to understand speech.

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Who receives implants?

Children and adults who are deaf or severely hard-of-hearing can be fitted for cochlear implants. As of December 2012, approximately 324,200 registered devices have been implanted worldwide. In the United States, roughly 58,000 devices have been implanted in adults and 38,000 in children. (Estimates provided by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration [FDA], as reported by cochlear implant manufacturers.)

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How receive implant?

Use of a cochlear implant requires both a surgical procedure and significant therapy to learn or relearn the sense of hearing. Not everyone performs at the same level with this device. The decision to receive an implant should involve discussions with medical specialists, including an experienced cochlear-implant surgeon. The process can be expensive. For example, a person’s health insurance may cover the expense, but not always.

Future

The NIDCD supports research to enhance the benefits of cochlear implants. Scientists are exploring whether using a shortened electrode array, inserted into a portion of the cochlea, for example, can help individuals whose hearing loss is limited to the higher frequencies while preserving their hearing of lower frequencies.

Source:   National Institute on Deafness

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