Hearing Vibes: Adjusting to My Cochlear Implant

Tim Gaule

In this month’s article, I would like to discuss my experience in adjusting to my cochlear implant. A cochlear implant can be an option for people who have severe hearing loss from inner ear damage and are not able to hear well with hearing aids. Unlike hearing aids, which amplify sound, a cochlear implant replaces the function of damaged sensory hair cells inside the inner ear to deliver sound signals to the auditory nerve.

An implant consists of two components. There is an external processor that fits over the ear, much like a hearing aid. There is also an implant that is surgically placed under the skin and is attached to an electrode array that is inserted into a part of the inner ear called the cochlea. Contrary to what some people may think, it is not brain surgery, and it is typically performed on an outpatient basis. I had my surgery at Banner. My surgery was at 7 a.m., and I was home by early afternoon. My surgeon was Dr. Dewyer.

My surgery was in October 2021. I had to wait three weeks after surgery until my implant was activated by my audiologist. I was excited on the day of activation, as I hoped to immediately hear old sounds that I hadn’t heard in several years. However, to my initial disappointment, all I could hear was “clicks,” even though I could see that the audiologist was talking to me. She assured me that everything would get much better and that it was important to work on “rehab.”

When I left the audiologist, one of the first sounds that I heard was the turn signal on my car. Once I arrived home, I immediately started working on my rehab. Rehab consists of listening to various sources, such as audiobooks, the TV using closed captions, or one of the various apps available from the implant manufacturer. In my case, the apps I used were WordSuccess and SoundSuccess. These apps let you identify a word or sentence spoken by a speaker. There is also the option to add background noise. I was encouraged to initially do rehab using my implant only. During rehab, my hearing with my implant improved quickly. At first, voices were robotic, but they now sound very close to “normal.”

I also have a special hearing aid that is linked to my implant and automatically adapts to different listening environments to help me hear. At my latest audiology exam, my sentence understanding using both devices was 97%. However, I still struggle in noisy environments, such as restaurants or social gatherings.

There are three brands of implants. I have an Advanced Bionics implant. The following link provides a comparison of the devices offered by the three companies: cochlearimplanthelp.com. Unlike a hearing aid, an implant can’t be returned, so choose wisely. If you have questions about cochlear implants, please contact me at [email protected].