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Cochlear Implants Help Patients of All Ages Hear

October 23, 2019
Thirty years ago, when they first started being used, cochlear implants were reserved for patients with no hearing. But a lot has changed in the past three decades. Regina Presley, AuD, Senior Audiologist at the Presbyterian Board of Governors Cochlear Implant Center of Excellence at GBMC, shared the innovations that have made it possible for cochlear implants to change the lives of even more patients.

“When we started, cochlear implants were only used for patients who could not hear at all,” Dr. Presley explained. “Now, patients of all ages are getting implants for assistance with hearing when hearing aids are not working for them.”

Dr. Presley explained that hearing loss occurs when there is damage to the hair cells in the inner ear. These hair cells send information to the brain, which then gives meaning to the sounds you hear. When they’re damaged, the brain can’t interpret the sounds.

For some types of hearing loss, hearing aids can help amplify sound, but when the hair cells are severely damaged, hearing aids just increase the volume of the sounds coming in, but the brain can’t interpret them. That’s when many people consider cochlear implants.

The devices are surgically implanted during a 90-minute outpatient procedure that requires very little recovery time. Three weeks later, patients return to the audiologist and the devices are activated. The implants bypass the hair cells and send sound in the form of electrical current, which the brain learns to interpret over time.

One of Dr. Presley’s patients, Robert Pullo, shared how cochlear implants changed his life. “I began losing my hearing and it became harder and harder for me to follow and be part of conversations at work and at home. I changed my lifestyle so I wouldn’t be embarrassed by saying the wrong thing, which led to me be more and more isolated. After I retired, I lost my hearing entirely. I tried hearing aids, but I still couldn’t distinguish words from background noise. After I received my cochlear implants, it’s been a complete renewal of my ability to communicate and interact with the world around me. These implants don’t just change your hearing, they change your life,” he said.
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