by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.
A lady wrote,
I am 57 and wonder when is the time to get a cochlear implant. I am getting conflicting information. My hearing aid dealer and ENT say wait until I can’t carry on conversations one on one anymore. Another ENT quickly tried to schedule me for an implant. My sister, who taught the deaf, says she knew many adults who were very happy with their implants. I have a bilateral, sensorineural, progressive loss that is going down quickly. My discrimination scores are 24% in my left ear and 16% in my right ear. I just want to know how to tell if that’s an option for me. I’ve used aids since I was 17. I think I do well, but I’m not around a lot of people.
There is no hard and fast rule about when it is time to get a cochlear implant (CI). Here are the two extremes. On the one hand, some people wait until they have no useful hearing left to lose so if the cochlear implant doesn’t work, they are no worse off than before. These are the ones that are afraid of the implant. At the other extreme are the people that want to get an implant as soon as they are eligible because they want to hear more now. They are so optimistic that a CI will work that they keep on trying to get one as soon as they can.
Probably, most people are in the middle somewhere. You have to be psychologically ready. Some are “ready” sooner, and some are “ready” later. There is no right or wrong time here—just when you are “ready”. And some people are never “ready” and so keep putting it off.
Typically, you are eligible for a cochlear implant when:
1. Your hearing loss is severe or worse.
2. Your discrimination scores are under 40%.
3. Hearing aids no longer give you any significant help.
I’m sure your hearing loss meets No. 1. and your discrimination scores definitely meet No. 2. I just don’t know how much benefit your hearing aids give you at this point.
No doubt you also speechread. When talking about a CI, they don’t consider whether you speechread or not—it is strictly what you can hear. If you shut your eyes and someone talks to you, can you hear and understand them with your hearing aids on? If not, you meet No. 3 as well.
I think you are eligible now. The question is, “Are you ‘ready’ now?” Only you can answer that.
I know hundreds and hundreds of people with CIs. All but a handful say they can now hear better than they ever could with their hearing aids. Asked if they would do it over again they say, “I’d do it in a heartbeat!”—even those that don’t get as much benefit from their CIs as they had hoped. Furthermore, they often say, “Now I wonder why I waited so long” or, “I wish I had done this much sooner.”
And many say, “If I had known then what I know now, I’d wouldn’t have hesitated so much, but jumped at the chance to hear better with a cochlear implant.”
It will help you greatly if you join a cochlear implant group and talk to other people—some who have had cochlear implants for some years, some that are just newly-implanted and some who are going through the evaluation process at the moment. 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 by clicking on this link, then following the instructions.
If you are curious whether you are eligible, go to a cochlear implant center and have your hearing evaluated. (Only cochlear implant centers can really tell you whether you are eligible or not.) Then make up your own mind. If you feel that you are “ready”, go for it. If not, wait until you are “ready”. That is the right time.