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Who is a Good Candidate for a Cochlear Implant Hearing Device?

By T. Carrier
Updated May 17, 2024
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Cochlear implant hearing devices are one type of medical option for individuals facing deafness. The small recording devices may be implanted in adults or children, and they may assist those with severe hearing loss in experiencing sounds again. Candidacy requirements are ever-changing as new research generates enhanced understanding of the cochlear implant procedure. Some general candidacy criteria remain common, however, such as the following: profound deafness, sensorineural deafness, and acceptance of psychological and hearing test evaluations

A profound and sensorineural hearing loss in both ears constitutes the prime candidacy recommendation for adults and children. Profound hearing loss is the most severe and occurs when a person cannot hear sounds below about 95 decibel levels. In context, an average hearing person can distinguish sounds at roughly 20 decibel levels or above.

Small hairs in the cochlea of the inner ear conduct sound to the auditory nerve. When these hair cells are damaged, sensorineural impairment results. This type of hearing loss can result from many different factors, including viruses, degenerative disorders, genetics, or tumors. Sensorineural loss often results in irreversible deafness.

Cochlear implant hearing devices help sensorineural hearing loss by directly stimulating the inner ear’s auditory nerve with electricity, thereby bypassing the hair cells required for traditional hearing. A network of microphones, speech processors, and transmitters placed on the outer ear work in tandem with surgically implanted electrodes and receivers to create the perception of hearing for the profoundly deaf.

Several other general criteria exist for children, although each is subject to exceptions. For example, the United States Food and Drug Administration set a recommended age guideline of one year old or above in 2002. Cochlear implant surgery centers around the world do perform procedures on younger children given special circumstances, however. A supportive family setting is also recommended, particularly if such motivation includes participation in educational approaches that go beyond sign language. Medical ailments that may interfere with treatment or demonstrated progress with other forms of hearing aids may exclude a child from candidacy.

The same basic guidelines apply for adults, and older individuals will most likely need to take hearing tests, such as a sentence recognition test. The prospect is given a hearing aid to perform the test. If the adult scores less than 50 percent on this test, his or her chances for candidacy will increase. X-rays, MRIs, psychological tests and counseling, and routine medical examinations should also be expected. Extensive follow-up services will also result.

Comprehensive medical evaluations and objective information that presents both cochlear implant benefits and criticisms are essentials for any potential candidate. Audiologists and audiological test batteries can provide invaluable insight into an individual’s level of deafness and his or her possible response to a cochlear implant hearing device. A patient’s language skills prior to deafness and comfort level with the concept of restored auditory language are important cognitive and psychological factors which should garner consideration as well. While a cochlear implant hearing device cannot cure deafness, it may provide many patients with an improved standard of life. Results and outcomes will vary among individuals, so all medical and personal factors are of equal importance.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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