Thirty-six-year-old Tracy Allison has had hearing loss for most of her life caused by bacterial meningitis when she was a baby. Over the years, she’s become adept at lip reading and sign language, and she’s also enjoyed communicating through voice with help from a hearing aid. Talking with others at home and in her career as a proposal subcontract analyst is important to her.
She always told herself that if she lost more hearing and other treatment options weren’t working, she’d consider a cochlear implant. That time came in 2017, when her hearing worsened and she made the life-changing decision to have cochlear implant surgery at GW Hospital.
Her board-certified surgeon and otolaryngologist Ashkan Monfared, MD, explains that the outpatient procedure involves making a discreet incision behind the ear and implanting a small electronic device under the skin into the bone. A fine electrode goes into the inner ear and sends electrical signals to the nerve of hearing.
Unlike a hearing aid, which makes everything louder, a cochlear implant makes sounds clearer, explains Doctor of Audiology Marquitta Merkison, CCC-A, F-AAA. She notes that the sounds patients hear are totally different from anything they’ve heard before, and the brain needs to be trained how to recognize the new signals. “I remember hearing a lot of ‘beep-beep’ sounds,” Tracy says of the first time the device was activated. The next day, she remembers starting to pick up normal sounds.
She has worked hard in auditory rehabilitation, and her hearing continues to improve. She says she recognizes certain letters that she couldn’t with the hearing aid – such as “ch” and “s” – and she notices little things, like the sounds the dishwasher makes or a bird chirping through her window. “I’m happy I did it,” she says of her surgery. With practice, her hearing will continue to get better, Dr. Monfared says.
Could you be a candidate?
Many people think cochlear implants are just for babies, but they can help people of all ages, including many older adults. If you’re struggling to hear and your hearing aids are not adequately helping, talk with your doctor.
The experience and potential benefits can vary for each patient, based on the cause and duration of hearing loss and other factors. While there is no age limit to implantation, good cognitive function is necessary for successful rehabilitation.
To contact the Audiology Center, call 202-741-3275.
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