Mayo Clinic Health Library

Question

Cochlear implants: Who are they for?

I'm considering getting hearing aids, but have heard about cochlear implants as an option. Who are they for?

Updated: 02-24-2011

Answer

Cochlear implants — which bypass damaged or nonworking parts of the inner ear — can improve hearing if you have severe to profound hearing loss. Cochlear implants are electronic devices that convert acoustic sounds into electrical pulses that stimulate the auditory nerve directly. Your auditory nerve carries the signal to your brain, which recognizes the signal as sound.

If your hearing loss is severe, you may be a candidate for cochlear implants. Cochlear implant candidates generally have great difficulty understanding speech in everyday listening situations — even with hearing aids. Cochlear implants cannot restore "normal" hearing. But with communication training, children as young as 12 months of age and adults who have lost their hearing can benefit.

Communication training teaches you how to associate different signals from the cochlear implant with speech and environmental sounds. This process takes time and practice — from a few months to a period of years — and results won't be the same for everyone. Children are generally more adaptable and learn more easily than adults do, so they may achieve the most benefit.

An audiologist — a specialist in hearing loss and hearing aids — and a medical doctor who specializes in disorders of the ears, nose and throat (ENT) can complete an evaluation to determine whether you are a candidate for a cochlear implant. If you are a good candidate for an implant, your audiologist and ENT doctor will discuss the risks and benefits as well as potential costs with you.

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