Skip to content

    50+: Live Better, Longer

    Font Size
    A
    A
    A

    Understanding Cochlear Implants

    If you're very hard of hearing or deaf, a cochlear implant may help you get back the sounds you miss.

    It isn't a hearing aid, which makes sounds louder. It’s a small device that a doctor puts in your ear through surgery. It sends impulses directly to your auditory nerve, which carries sound signals to your brain.

    Recommended Related to Healthy Seniors

    Senior Fitness: Why It's Never Too Late to Start

    Each month WebMD the Magazine puts your questions about weight loss and fitness to top exercise and motivational experts. This month, John Harvey, an 86-year-old retired physician, asked for help beginning a fitness routine. Harvey moved with his wife to a retirement community in Bethesda, Md., about a year ago. He's never been obese, but at 225 pounds he's leaning more on his cane and is unsteady on his feet. For advice, we turned to Anthony Absalon, a fitness trainer at Fox Hill Senior Living in...

    Read the Senior Fitness: Why It's Never Too Late to Start article > >

    The implant doesn't make you hear normally again, but it can help you with sounds. Most people with severe to profound hearing loss can understand speech in person or over the phone better than they did with a hearing aid. It can usually help you know sounds around you, including telephones, doorbells, and alarms. Many people also can pick up on speech in noisy places better than they did with hearing aids, or even enjoy music again.

    How does a cochlear implant work?

    It's for children and adults with sensorineural hearing loss. That condition typically involves damage to tiny hair cells in a part of your inner ear called the cochlea. These hair cells usually pick up the vibrations of sounds and send them to the brain through the auditory nerve. When they’re damaged, sound can't reach that nerve. A cochlear implant skips the damaged hair cells and sends signals to the auditory nerve directly.

    The devices have two parts. One part, the receiver-stimulator, is placed under your skin through surgery. The other, the speech processor, you wear behind your ear like a hearing aid. The outside part is slightly larger than a normal behind-the-ear hearing aid.

    First, a surgeon puts a receiver under your skin behind your ear through a small cut. The receiver is connected to electrodes, which she’ll put into a part of your inner ear called the cochlea. The surgery takes an hour or two, and you’ll probably go home the same day.

    One to 2 weeks after the procedure, your doctor will fit your speech processor. You wear a microphone, which looks like a hearing aid, behind your ear. The processor may be connected to the microphone and worn at your ear, or you might wear it somewhere else on your body, depending on how active you are, your age, or your lifestyle. These processors offer different programs and telephone options. They also can connect to assistive listening devices and other technology you use, like an iPod. Some have rechargeable batteries, which can lower costs over time.

    When there are sounds around you, the microphone and processor pick them up and change them into electrical impulses. Then the transmitter sends these coded signals to the receiver under your skin. Next, the receiver delivers the signals to the electrodes inside your cochlea. These electrodes stimulate the auditory nerve, which carries the signals to the brain, where you recognize them as sound.

    1 | 2 | 3

    Today on WebMD

    blueberries
    Eating for a longer, healthier life.
    woman biking
    How to stay vital in your 50s and beyond.
     
    womans finger tied with string
    Learn how we remember, and why we forget.
    smiling after car mishap
    9 things no one tells you about getting older.
     
    fast healthy snack ideas
    Article
    how healthy is your mouth
    Tool
     
    dog on couch
    Tool
    doctor holding syringe
    Slideshow
     
    champagne toast
    Slideshow
    Two women wearing white leotards back to back
    Quiz
     
    Man feeding woman
    Slideshow
    two senior women laughing
    Article