Does a Cochlear Implant Actually Restore One’s Hearing?

Given the fact that this type of device is often referred to in popular parlance as a “bionic ear”, one may well be prompted to ask whether or not a cochlear implant actually does have the ability to restore one’s hearing? Sadly, to date, there is neither any form of treatment nor a device that is able to reverse deafness. However, research currently underway in a leading UK university appears to offer a glimmer of hope. The researchers have successfully induced human stem cells to develop into the nerve cells required for the transmission of impulses to the brain, an accomplishment that appears to promise a possible cure for patients who are affected by auditory neuropathy. This is a condition that accounts for about 15% of all deafness worldwide.

In practice, the role of these units is to assist the subject with interacting more effectively with other parties, as well as to cope with the various challenges posed by the normal environment that call for improved auditory perception.

Not only does a cochlear implant not restore the subject’s hearing, in fact, it does not even give rise to sounds that an average individual with normal hearing would be immediately familiar with. However, just as in the past, telegraph and radio operators quickly learned to interpret the dits and dahs known as Morse code as fluently as if it were human speech, given a little practice, a patient can become every bit as efficient at understanding the slightly altered audible sensations produced by these clever devices.

When compared with the conventional amplification aids with component parts that are all worn externally, the bionic ear serves to compensate for a loss of sensory activity in the middle ear. The electrical signals that it generates, however, do differ from normal nerve impulses, meaning that a cochlear implant does not restore a sensation that is identical to normal hearing. Both types of impulse are, nevertheless, modified in much the same ways by the tone and volume of the incoming sounds. This means that the final signals conveyed to the brain via the auditory nerve, although not identical, correspond precisely to the same external sounds, thus allowing most patients to adjust to these otherwise similar sensations quite quickly.

Given the high cost and the need for surgery, it is understandable that this is not an option offered to everyone. It is one generally confined to those with severe to profound hearing loss and for whom conventional hearing aids have proved to be ineffective. Even then, each subject must first undergo a thorough evaluation to ensure that he or she is a suitable candidate, and likely to benefit significantly from the procedure.

Like a cochlear implant, a hearing aid does not restore a patient’s hearing but, where the impairment is mild to moderate, it does offer a far cheaper and highly effective means with which to manage loss of audition. Also, if one model should prove to be ineffective, it is a simple matter to try another, whereas, barring failures, surgical implantation is generally a once-off procedure and changes are both costly and impractical.

The above points underline the importance of professional evaluation to determine the best course of action. The Ear Institute is South Africa’s undisputed leader in this field.

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