by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.
A mother asked:
I recently read they are working on a new internal Cochlear Implant. We are going to be getting an implant for our son this summer. I also know these internal implants are still a few years away. What I want to know is if we go ahead with the current implant, can he be implanted later with the newer implant? If not do you think it’s worth waiting for?
Until the totally implantable CIs are finally designed, no one knows exactly what they will be like. However, it seems that the old technology will not be compatible with the new for a number of reasons.
First, of course, is that all the electronics will be implanted, including the processor, not just the electrodes as is done now. Second, is that the processor will receive the sound signals in a different way. Currently the microphone on the external processor picks up the sound. The new fully-implantable cochlear implants will likely receive the sound from a transducer mounted on one of the bones in the middle ear or perhaps attached to the eardrum itself.
All this will necessitate a new design for how the electrode array attaches to the sound processor. As a result, I do not foresee that the current electrode arrays will work with the new fully-implantable cochlear implants.
However, when these new fully-implantable CIs come out, there is always the possibility that the old implant could be taken out and the new one implanted.
In the meantime, since these new fully-implantable CIs are still a few years away, it would be better for your son to get whatever CI model is available now and be implanted in one ear. He can always get an implantable CI for his other ear when they are finally available.
The reason you need to take action now is because the window of opportunity for fully developing the auditory circuits in your son’s brain is right now while his brain is still plastic. This window closes around the age of 6. So time is of the essence if you want your son to have the best chance at hearing well with his new implant.