I thought I would make a list of things I once thought, but turned out not to be true about cochlear implants. A couple of them are also what I’ve observed from other people’s perceptions.
1. The string of electrodes destroys the remainder of the hairs(cilia) in the cochlea. FALSE! Technology has evolved (starting a good while ago) to where the electrodes are flexible and can “hug” the cochlea. Before it was “stiffer” and when the surgeon inserted it, it would hit against the sides of the cochlea and thus destroying the hairs.
2. The internal piece erodes later in life. FALSE! The internal component is made with titanium, which does not corrode.
3. You can’t get an MRI with the implant without taking the internal piece out. FALSE and TRUE. I’m not sure what all of the companies do, but I know for a Cochlear CI, the magnet aspect is easy to remove and can be separated from the rest of the internal implant. So if you needed a MRI, they would just simply make a slit in your skin and pull out the magnet (this is how I understood it). There are also other types of machines available that does not do the same thing as a MRI, but can find out the same types of information. For example, a CAT scan involves taking a jug of iodine or another contrast material (which is pretty gross by the way!) and a machine takes “sliced” x-rays of your body.
4. You can’t go scuba diving. FALSE and TRUE. I have been told that you can engage in “recreational” scuba diving – at least with Cochlear (it’s best to talk to your audi for the specifics – they can tell you the maximum distance you can go underwater), but if you’re one of those people who goes looking for ship wrecks, then this might not be for you.
5. You can hear perfectly from the moment you’re activated. FALSE. For the most part, people report hearing “bells” or “Mickey Mouse” (if they’re lucky). It may take a month or two or three to start really understanding speech. People often have to engage in therapy such as listening to audio books and following along in the book itself. The audi will usually send “homework” home with the recently-activated implantee. Remember, you haven’t used that part of the brain in years, if at all, it takes awhile for it to adapt. The human brain is a wonderful thing in that it can adapt to things so well, no matter what age. Now age is a factor, when you’re a child, you’re neurons are constantly changing to fit your needs. But later in life, it may take longer for them to “learn” something. That’s why it’s good to practice. This can be applied with hearing aids and ASL too.
6. Cochlear Implants cure deafness. FALSE. It’s a COMMUNICATION TOOL, just like hearing aids, just like ASL. I don’t even think that a person who has one can have perfect hearing (although I could be wrong). I was told that I may hear at the 30 to 40 db range if I get one. A 20 db to 0 db is a normal range. At the end of the day, when someone takes it off to go to sleep at night, they are deaf.
I think this rumor is probably one of the most damaging rumors out there. What if you’re in an emergency and you’ve lost your cochlear implant? How will you communicate with people? How will you hear the fire alarm at night? How will your child (with a cochlear implant) get out of the house in time? Those are some things that people with cochlear implants need to ask themselves. It’s not something to be taken for granted. I’m in New Orleans and a lot of people talk about those folks that didn’t have hearing aid batteries or cochlear implant batteries as a result of the hurricanes. Organizations were donating these things to evacuees. But imagine if you were someone in a shelter and you didn’t have a place to recharge your batteries and people were saying over a PA system “If you are deaf, come to the front.” (I’ve heard that same story over and over again, it took people who knew sign language or who knew how to communicate with people with hearing loss to go through the shelter to get to these people – they would hold up signs – and these people didn’t have access to these shelters right away) You’re not going to hear that. It’s always good to have that emergency plan.
** a side note, like my disclaimer says, I am not a medical person. It’s always best to ask your doctor/audi about these things. I’m publishing this as a list of things I’ve come to understand in this process of researching cochlear implants.