The way hearing works (to keep it simple) is that a source of sound produces a vibrating wave that makes its way through the inner ear to communicate with the brain.
It’s kind of like a relay race where the metaphorical baton is the sound wave. If one piece of the inner ear “drops the baton” or can’t interpret the wave, the transmission stops. The sound wave never reaches the brain, and the listener doesn’t hear it.
You might think that if one of these pieces of the inner ear is broken, a person will not hear with that ear again, but thanks to cochlear implants, that’s not necessarily the case.
Myth 1: If hearing aids don’t help, I’ll never hear again.
Cochlear implants are remarkable two-piece devices that can take sounds and communicate with the brain by bypassing the piece of the inner ear that is damaged.
A tiny removable computer is placed just outside the ear. The computer passes the sound information to small devices that have been surgically implanted on the cochlea (a piece of the inner ear). These devices then share the information with the brain, which interprets the electrical communication as sound.
Myth 2: Cochlear implants are just for children.
Many people associate cochlear implants with young children, but Boys Town National Research Hospital also provides implants for adults, like Faith Koch.
Faith experienced gradual hearing loss over the course of decades. Though she had hearing aids, Faith’s hearing loss kept her from hearing the sounds she loved — from the chatter of her grandchildren, to church bells, to conversations with friends and family.
“Before getting the cochlear implant, I was lost,” she said. “Going to restaurants or church, weddings or funerals — I had no idea what was being said.”
Faith’s daughter saw the difficulties her mother was having and brought her to Boys Town. She knew how important it was for Faith’s quality of life to be able to hear and connect with the people around her.
With the care and guidance of the cochlear implant team at Boys Town Hospital, Faith underwent cochlear implant surgery and began re-learning how to hear.
“When someone says, ‘What is a life-changing moment?’ I can truthfully say one is getting my cochlear implant,” Faith said. “I can hear my grandbabies cry and coo. I am not afraid to make friends now. It’s like starting my life all over again. I remember thinking that I was way too old to get a cochlear implant, but I would tell any adult who has a hearing problem to please look into getting one. It will open up a whole new world for you!”
Myth 3: After getting a cochlear implant, my hearing will be the same as it was before.
Cochlear implants are miraculous pieces of technology that are making hearing easier for people with profound hearing loss every day. However, they’re still an electrical device doing the job of a human organ, so the way a person hears sounds with a cochlear implant will be different from hearing with a human ear alone. The signals passed to the brain will lack a lot of the pitch details that those without hearing loss notice in everyday conversation.
Boys Town Hospital has a team of researchers dedicated to examining these differences and improving the technology, procedures and aftercare for cochlear implantation.
Monita Chatterjee, Ph.D., leads the Auditory Prostheses & Perception Lab. Her team is studying the impact that altered tone of voice can have on emotional understanding.
Adam Bosen, Ph.D., is the director of the Auditory Perceptual Encoding Lab. His team has joined forces with Dr. Chatterjee’s to see if how someone says something has an effect on how the listener remembers it.
Like all Boys Town researchers, audiologists who specialize in cochlear implants apply research findings directly to the clinical care at Boys Town National Research Hospital, ensuring that patients are receiving the most up-to-date, innovative care.