Since at least the 1970’s, cochlear implant technology has been benefiting hearing impaired patients who no longer receive benefit from traditional hearing aids. Over the past several decades, the sound processing technology and surgical procedure have been continually refined. Until recently, patients who qualified for this procedure had to travel to Dallas or Oklahoma City for surgery and follow up care. This procedure, with the associated follow up care, is now being offered in Wichita Falls.
Cochlear implants are designed for adults and children who have severe to profound sensorineural hearing loss and no longer get benefit from amplification (hearing aids). If a patient is not able to easily communicate on the telephone with a hearing aid, they would likely be a cochlear implant candidate.
The device consists of an implantable portion that sits just under the skin behind the ear. An electrode from the device travels through the drilled mastoid bone into the cochlea, where the auditory nerve is then directly stimulated. A second, external device looks much like a hearing aid and rests behind the patient’s ear. A small magnet sends processed sound via the magnet transdermally where it is received by the implanted device.
The surgery for cochlear implantation is generally performed as an outpatient. The procedure lasts about 2 ½ hours. After three weeks of wound healing, the device is activated with the help of specially trained audiologists. Several visits with the audiologist are required during the first year to “map” the device, or program the settings of the implant to the patient’s specific needs.
Several steps are needed to determine if a patient will benefit from a cochlear implant. First, an audiogram using the patient’s hearing aids provides a baseline sense of hearing level. An additional battery of sentence recognition testing will identify patients who meet FDA criteria for implantation. Finally, an evaluation with the surgeon will determine if the patient is medically fit to undergo surgery.
While cochlear implantation will equally benefit adults and children with hearing loss, the perioperative community demands are greater for children. It is necessary for these children to have a fully integrated therapy program in place that incorporates school, health providers and speech therapists. For this reason, only adult cochlear implantation is being offered in Wichita Falls until an appropriate support network for children is in place.
The opportunity for hearing impaired patients to benefit from cochlear implantation is exciting for the Wichita Falls community. We look forward to improving access for these patients, who otherwise may view long travel distances as an obstacle to taking advantage of this technology.
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