The cochlear implant (CI), invented in 1972, is an electronic device that provides a sense of sound to those who are profoundly deaf or severely hard of hearing. Since 1972, approximately 100,000 people worldwide have received cochlear implants. Often, a cochlear implant is referred to as a bionic ear. Perhaps it is best described as a prosthetic substitute for hearing.
How the Implant Works
A cochlear implant does not amplify sound, as hearing aids do, but instead stimulates functioning auditory nerves inside the cochlea with electrical impulses. Cochlear implants will not restore hearing or cure deafness. However, a cochlear implant can provide a useful representation of speech and sounds to appropriate recipients.
The newest CIs look like a large hearing aid. A CI has complex electronic components, internal and external. A surgical procedure is required for the implantation of the internal components. The external component is a speech processor that is a powerful minicomputer and is held in place behind the ear by a magnet component. The speech processor filters, analyzes, and digitizes sounds into coded signals that are sent to a transmitter and then on to a receiver/stimulator. The receiver/stimulator is the internal component of the CI. The cochlear implant takes over the function of the inner ear. Importantly, following the implantation of a CI, consistent and significant follow-up therapy is needed to acquire or reacquire a sense of hearing.
Heather Whitestone McCallum, Miss America of 1995, received a cochlear implant in August 2002. Since the implant, she has already heard a variety of sounds, such as water running from a faucet, a van door opening, and the sounds of her children. Heather continues to work on learning to interpret the more complex sounds she hears with her cochlear implant.
The entire time lapse between what the person hears and what the brain processes is microseconds. Presently, scientists are continuing to develop smaller, faster, enhanced speech processors. This will improve the perception of speech and music. During the upcoming years, one of the goals of the scientists is to also make these devices fully implantable.
The Cochlear Implant Education Center
Today, more than 100,000 adults and children worldwide have received cochlear implants according to the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Otolaryngology. The Cochlear Implant Education Center, on the campus of Gallaudet University, continues to investigate and evaluate cochlear implant technology and its role in the lives of deaf children, from birth to high school. The educational philosophy of the center for students with cochlear implants is to provide a linguistically rich environment for the acquisition of American Sign Language and English.