by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.
A man explained,
I have very severe hearing loss in both ears. My doctor says I need to have cochlear implants.
He then requested,
Could you shed some light on how successful they are, and what I should expect as a result of the surgery.
Cochlear implants (CIs) are typically very successful. I know hundreds of people that have cochlear implants. With a handful of exceptions, all now hear better than they ever did with their hearing aids.
Yes, there are some failures. Of these, some have been re-implanted and have achieved success the second or third time round. For some reason, the odd person just doesn’t have any success with a CI—but as I said, they are only a handful.
Having a CI doesn’t give you normal hearing to be sure— although some people think they come pretty close. Thus, the proper way to look at it is that you will have better hearing than you have now with your hearing aids—but keep your expectations low. Then if you have much better hearing, you will be happy. If you go into it with high expectations, even if you only just hear a bit better than you do now, you likely will be disappointed.
It takes time for your brain to rewire itself to hearing with a cochlear implant. Some people can understand speech the same day they are turned on. For others it takes weeks or months of effort. A few people can actually hear on the phone the day they are turned on. For others, this never happens. You need to know that your hearing will keep on improving for 3 to 5 years or longer after you are turned on, so don’t get discouraged if you don’t hear everything all at once in the beginning. Take the long-term view and measure your success after 5 years of wearing your CI. By then, your brain will have rewired its auditory circuits, and you’ll realize just how much better you hear now than you did before.
Almost everyone that has gotten a CI has said that knowing what they know now, if they had it to do over again, they’d do it over again in a heartbeat. That tells you how much they love their CIs, and how much benefit they get from them. Another phrase CI recipients often use is, “My CIs gave me my life back.”
There are a few side effects from the CI surgery that some people experience. Many people have bad tinnitus right after the surgery—but it typically goes away in a few days, or after they get “turned on” about a month later. Some find they have dizziness in the days or week after the surgery, but that usually goes away in a few days. Some people have taste problems— food tastes different or they have a metallic taste. This is because the facial nerve that includes servicing the taste buds lies close to the auditory nerve and may have been nicked or become inflamed during the surgery. Typically, taste returns to normal within a couple of months or so.
Before you have CI surgery, you would do well to join an on- line list for people with CIs. That way you will get first-hand information from a variety of people. The best CI list—friendly, supportive and one with no CI ‘wars’—is the CI list in the SayWhatClub. You can join the SayWhatClub CI list here and follow the instructions. If you do join, I’ll see you there.