by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.
A lady wrote:
I have a progressive loss rated at “severe” currently. At the rate I’m going, I’ll probably not be helped by hearing aids within 10 years. Many of the ALD’s I have purchased have not really been enough help, I am getting more desperate about means to stay in the “hearing world”.
I have looked into the implantable hearing aid trials by Otologic. I have “passed” their criteria as a candidate and await an opportunity to ask pertinent questions before proceeding with the costly implant. What is your opinion of this device?
Many people have been eagerly waiting for a fully-implantable hearing aid. They cite the benefits of being able to wear it in the shower, or while swimming and while sleeping. Of course the real push behind totally implantable hearing aids is that they would be totally invisible so no one could tell you are hard of hearing by looking at you.
However, there are some down sides and problems with implantable hearing aids. Let’s look at these so you can make a more informed decision how you want to proceed.
First, implantable hearing aids (at least the current ones in trials) will only work if you have a functioning inner ear. Basically it just vibrates (more vigorously) the bones in the middle ear—so if your cochlea is not working well, it will only be of limited help—just like conventional hearing aids.
Unfortunately, most hearing loss (90+% in adults) is sensorineural. In other words the inner ear is damaged and no matter how vigorously you vibrate the middle ear bones, you cannot completely make up for the missing hair cells in the inner ear.
Second, tests reveal you won’t hear as well with the internal microphone of implantable hearing aids as you would with an external microphone. The internal microphone is hidden behind skin so it can’t pick up the sounds as well as one open to the air.
Third, there is the problem of replacing the batteries whenever they ultimately die. This would require minor surgery to replace the whole internal “hearing aid”.
The current crop of implantable hearing aids will be more useful to people with more moderate, stable hearing losses, and to those with certain middle ear problems that can be overcome by vibrating the bones more vigorously.
At present, I think this is much more of a vanity device than any improvement in the quality of hearing.
Because you have a progressive hearing loss, and because the worse your hearing gets, the less any hearing aid will help you including implantable hearing aids, I fear you would be wasting good money on it. The way things are going, in a few years you will likely need a cochlear implant anyway.
Personally, I’d stay with powerful BTE hearing aids, supplemented with assistive devices, until the time comes for a cochlear implant.