Hearing Aids and Cochlear Implants: Who Needs them?

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According to the Better Hearing Institute (BHI) 34.2 million Americans, about 10% of the total population, have hearing loss. Yet – only about 8 million–about 24%–had hearing aids.

Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine recently analyzed data from the National Health and Nutritional Examination Surveys (NHANES). From these, they concluded that about 20% of all Americans age 12 and over, some 48 million people, suffer from hearing impairment, if one includes individuals with hearing loss in only one ear. If this figure is used, then only about 15% of those with hearing loss have hearing aids.

The woman who can no longer have a normal conversation with her husband without shouting at him is sure that he needs hearing aids. The man whose aging mother no longer enjoys her weekly lunch with her friends has no doubt that it’s time for her to get her hearing tested. And every audiologist and hearing instrument specialist has a file full of people whose audiograms provide incontrovertible proof that they need hearing aids now.

Three major reasons why people don’t get hearing aids:

1) Denial (“He refuses to admit that he can’t hear well any more”)

2) Vanity (“She thinks hearing aids would make her look old.”)

3) Stubbornness (“My husband hasn’t listened to anything I told him since the day we got married!”).

A cochlear implant is very different from a hearing aid. Hearing aids amplify sounds so they may be detected by damaged ears. Cochlear implants bypass damaged portions of the ear and directly stimulate the auditory nerve. Signals generated by the implant are sent by way of the auditory nerve to the brain, which recognizes the signals as sound. Hearing through a cochlear implant is different from normal hearing and takes time to learn or relearn. However, it allows many people to recognize warning signals, understand other sounds in the environment, and enjoy a conversation in person or by telephone.

What about cochlear implants?

Credit: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Children and adults who are deaf or severely hard-of-hearing can be fitted for cochlear implants. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), as of December 2010, approximately 219,000 people worldwide have received implants. In the United States, roughly 42,600 adults and 28,400 children have received them.

Adults who have lost all or most of their hearing later in life often can benefit from cochlear implants. They learn to associate the signal provided by an implant with sounds they remember. This often provides recipients with the ability to understand speech solely by listening through the implant, without requiring any visual cues such as those provided by lipreading or sign language.

Cochlear implants, coupled with intensive postimplantation therapy, can help young children to acquire speech, language, and social skills. Most children who receive implants are between two and six years old. Early implantation provides exposure to sounds that can be helpful during the critical period when children learn speech and language skills. In 2000, the FDA lowered the age of eligibility to 12 months for one type of cochlear implant.

If someone you know or love is suffering form hearing loss this is an important show to listen to…

Guest Speaker:

Dr. Mark Zelnick and Jack R. Falack

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