Cochlear Implant Part 1: What are Cochlear Implants and How Do They Work?

Have you ever wondered how cochlear implants function and how they help people hear? There are two parts to wearing a cochlear implant. The first part is the internal implant known as the receiver and the second part is the external implant known as the sound processor and transmitter. The internal implant is inserted right beneath the skin by the ear via surgery and is connected to electrodes that are looped inside the cochlear. Depending on which Cochlear Implant manufacturer, there are a total of between 12 to 22 electrodes. The electrodes consist of pitches from low to high. Think of electrodes as a piano. When you hit a key on the piano it makes a distinct pitch. Different keys on the piano produce different pitches and the same piano key will produce the same pitch every single time. Electrodes is a similar concept to playing a piano. Once the internal implant is inserted, then it is time to activate and install the mapping on the sound processor. The sound processor is hooked behind the ear which is connected to the transmitter that has a magnet attached. The coil/transmitter is then placed at the site where the internal magnetized internal receiver sits. The sound processor receives the sounds, which sends the signal to the transmitter and then through the skin to the receiver. The sound then continues to the electrodes which then the brain interprets as sounds.

The mapping or programming consists of setting the highest sound for the high and low pitches that the cochlear implant user feels most comfortable with and setting the softest sound that the patient is able to first detect. Different manufacturers have different mapping processes and different sets of programs that can be set. For one of the brands, mapping has 4 programs. The programs have different jobs. For instance, scan will adjust the talking according to the background noise, so that the cochlear implant will constantly scan and will adjust itself by amplifying the talking to be louder than the background noise. Then, there is 1-1 which means the cochlear implant will narrow down the microphone to the person you are speaking with and block out all surrounding sounds. Then, there is group which is the same idea as 1-1 but in this situation the microphone’s sensitivity is set to be wide enough to be able to receive talking of about 3-4 people and block out surrounding sounds. There are many more programs to choose aside from the ones listed above. The mapping of the sound processor needs to be reprogrammed every 6 months to every year, depending on the patient, to function its job to the fullest. In addition, the receiver needs to be replaced every 10 years. There are three different companies that manufacture cochlear implants. They are Cochlear, Advanced Biotics, and MED-EL. 

Here are some YouTube videos of people’s experiences with cochlear implants:

Will’s Story

Carol’s Story

Children’s Experience with Cochlear Implants

Read more “Cochlear Implant Part 2: Cochlear Implant Users in the Real-World” coming soon. This article will explain more in details what cochlear implant users experience and how they function in the real-world.

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