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Johns Hopkins Health - Listen Up

Summer 2013
Issue No. 21

Listen Up

Date: July 16, 2013

Implanted device can help older adults with hearing loss

cochlear implant

Cochlear implants give people who have hearing loss an awareness and understanding of sound. Once used almost exclusively for children born deaf, the small, electronic devices implanted behind the ears are now being widely used in older adults. Frank R. Lin, M.D., Ph.D., an otolaryngologist and epidemiologist with the Johns Hopkins Listening Center, explains.

What is the trend behind the use of cochlear implants in older adults?
All of us will develop hearing loss as we get older. As our population ages, especially with the baby boomer generation, more people are seeking solutions. There is also greater awareness of the technology. Just 15 years ago, 70 percent of the cochlear implants we did were in children and 30 percent were in adults. Today, it’s the exact opposite.

Do cochlear implants work for every type of hearing loss?
Cochlear implants are effective for people who have a problem with the inner ear, as opposed to the eardrum or the ear bones. When the inner ear degrades to a point where a person has severe or profound hearing loss, hearing aids are no longer beneficial. We think up to 250,000 Americans older than 70 could benefit from a cochlear implant, but fewer than 5 percent of these individuals have received one.

Should I try hearing aids before getting an implant?
Hearing aids will always be tried before a cochlear implant is considered. An audiologist will perform hearing and speech tests to make sure you are a candidate for a cochlear implant. It’s best to have your hearing evaluated sooner rather than later, as hearing loss is related to other issues such as falls, cognitive decline and dementia. We think that’s because the brain has to rededicate resources to help with hearing, which comes at the expense of other brain processes such as thinking and memory. If testing reveals that you are a candidate for an implant, the surgery takes about two hours and will be performed on an outpatient basis.

Once I get the implant, am I good to go?
Our goal at the Listening Center is to make sure that a person receiving a cochlear implant can listen and communicate effectively in all settings, whether it’s in a quiet room, at church or in a crowded restaurant. To achieve this goal, the person meets with a therapist to begin hearing rehabilitation shortly after surgery, and the person will also work closely with an audiologist for adjustments to the implant. Similar to individuals who require a prosthetic limb, those receiving a cochlear implant need adequate time and rehabilitative training to learn how to use the device and to reach their full potential.

For more information, appointments or consultations, call 877-546-1872.

Watch a video on Cochlear Implants
Learn how cochlear implants are helping patients of all ages who have hearing loss that cannot be remedied by hearing aids. Johns Hopkins hearing specialist Howard Francis, M.D., discusses how cochlear implants, along with communication therapy, can change your life or the life of a loved one in Cochlear Implants: When Hearing Aids Aren't Enough. The webinar was also be presented by a Certified Deaf Interpreter.

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