Living With Severe Hearing Loss
Cochlear Implants in Children
Time is of the essence in children, too. "The younger you implant a profoundly impaired child, the more receptive the brain and the better the outcome," Hughes says. "These children develop an incredible vocabulary."
Some children who receive a cochlear implant at a young age can attend mainstream school with minimal to no assistance. The outcome depends on several factors, such as parental involvement, other medical conditions, cause of deafness, age of implantation, and the underlying abilities of the individual.
To help with speech recognition, children with cochlear implants usually benefit from auditory-verbal therapy. This approach encourages children to rely on hearing, rather than visual cues, as they develop language skills. Kids learn to use their cochlear implants to listen to their own voice, the voices of others, and everyday sounds in order to develop their hearing skills.
Auditory-verbal therapy coaches parents to become the main facilitators in developing their child's hearing skills. A similar strategy, auditory-oral-therapy, relies on teachers and therapists to guide children in developing these skills. The goal of either approach is to help children comprehend and use spoken language in a way that enables them to participate in mainstream society.
Middle-ear implants are an alternative to conventional hearing aids. They also boost sound to the inner ear, but the devices are implanted within the middle ear to directly drive the ossicles. These are three tiny bones that amplify sound signals and transmit them to the inner ear, from the ear drum.
Middle-ear implants may also appeal to people who want an invisible hearing device. They are also beneficial in people who cannot wear a hearing aid such as those with dermatologic conditions affecting the ear canal, or a very small or absent ear canal. The implants may also be helpful in those who did not get the desired effect with a traditional hearing aid. Another advantage is that patients "do not sound like they are in a barrel when they are talking, Atcherson says." This is a common complaint with hearing aids that block the ear canal.
Bone-Conducting Hearing Aids
For people with severe hearing loss on only one side, one type of implant can simulate two-sided hearing. A bone-conducting hearing aid uses a component that is attached to the side of the head with poor hearing. Vibrations picked up on that side travel through the skull to the normal ear. "Research has shown a surprising improvement in quality of life," Atcherson says.
Assistive Listening Devices
Assistive listening devices can be used with hearing aids to create a better result in certain situations. The goal is usually to separate speech from background noise.
FM systems use radio technology to broadcast a speaker's words directly to a hearing aid. The classic example is the classroom setting, where a microphone is placed in front of a teacher. This helps the student hear the teacher's voice over other sounds.
Infrared systems use light-based technology to transmit sound. They are often used to enhance television listening.
Induction loop systems are designed to help people hear announcements in public facilities, such as airports, schools, or auditoriums. These systems send signals directly to specially equipped hearing aids or headphones.