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  • Writer's pictureMyrna Driedger

“What did you say?”

Cochlear Implants Improve the health of seniors

A cochlear implant is an electronic device that improves hearing. It can be an option for people who have severe hearing loss from inner-ear damage who are not able to hear well with hearing aids. Unlike hearing aids, which amplify sound, a cochlear implant bypasses damaged portions of the ear to deliver sound signals to the hearing (auditory) nerve.

Cochlear implants use a sound processor that fits behind the ear. The processor captures sound signals and sends them to a receiver implanted under the skin behind the ear. The receiver sends the signals to electrodes implanted in the snail-shaped inner ear (cochlea).

The signals stimulate the auditory nerve, which then directs the signals to the brain. The brain interprets those signals as sounds, though these sounds won't be just like natural hearing. It takes time and training to learn to interpret the signals received from a cochlear implant. Within 3 to 6 months of use, most people with cochlear implants make considerable gains in understanding speech.

The Manitoba Government recently announced $352,000 to expand health coverage for cochlear implant replacements to include adults. For some Manitobans, cochlear implants ensure they can hear and live with their loss of hearing. The expansion will implement an adult program that is identical to the pediatric program, which will cover 80 per cent of the cost of replacement every five years with a 20 per cent co-pay. This new funding for expanded coverage represents one of the most generous programs for cochlear implant recipients in Canada and will have a tremendously positive impact for patients and their families.

The province already covers the initial surgery, but the external processors require periodic replacement, which can be expensive without additional coverage. The expanded program is anticipated to benefit about 40 people each year, many of whom are over the age of 55. There are no up-front costs to Manitoba residents who proceed with cochlear implant surgery as Manitoba Health covers the surgical procedure, internal implant and the first external sound processor. Adult patients are responsible for the upgrade costs of their sound processor when it requires replacement ($10,000).

An important aspect of healthy aging is social connectedness and age-related hearing loss can have an isolating effect for seniors. Expanding the cochlear implant program will help to ensure older adults who may be facing financial barriers have equitable access to this important device, which will enable them to continue to participate fully in life with their families and communities.

Cochlear implant surgery is done under general anesthesia. This means you will be in a sleep-like state during the procedure. The surgeon will make a cut (incision) behind your ear and form a small hole in the portion of skull bone (mastoid) where the internal device rests. Your surgeon will then create a small opening in the cochlea to thread the electrode of the internal device. The skin incision is stitched closed so that the internal device is under your skin.

Cochlear implants may be placed in one ear (unilateral) or both ears (bilateral). Adults will often have one cochlear implant and one hearing aid at first. Adults may then progress to two cochlear implants as the hearing loss advances in the hearing aid ear.

People who have cochlear implants report improved:

· Ability to hear speech without needing visual cues such as reading lips

· Recognition of everyday sounds

· Ability to listen in a noisy environment

· Ability to find where sounds are coming from

· Ability to hear television programs, music, and telephone conversations

· Symptoms of ringing or buzzing (tinnitus) in the implanted ear

To be eligible for a cochlear implant, you must have:

· Hearing loss that interrupts spoken communication

· Limited benefit from hearing aids as determined by specialized hearing tests

· Motivation to participate in hearing rehabilitation and be part of the hearing world

· Realistic expectations of what cochlear implants can and can't do for hearing

For more information on the adult cochlear implant program, visit the website of the Central Speech and Hearing Clinic at the Victoria Hospital.


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