The Cochlear Implant Debate

April - posted on 10/09/2010 ( 49 moms have responded )

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If you were deaf, would you get a cochlear implant? if your children were deaf, would you get one for them? Would you do it while your children were young or would you wait until they were old enough to decide for themselves whether or not they wanted the surgery?



For those of you who are wondering what the heck a cochlear implant is: It's like a bionic ear... it is defined as a surgically implanted electronic device and it's placed near your brain.







How does a Cochlear Implant work?



A cochlear implant is very different from a hearing aid. Hearing aids amplify sounds so they may be detected by damaged ears. Cochlear implants bypass damaged portions of the ear and directly stimulate the auditory nerve.



Hearing through a Cochlear Implant



Hearing through a cochlear implant is different from normal hearing and takes time to learn or relearn. However, it allows many people to recognize warning signals, understand other sounds in the environment, and enjoy a conversation in person or by telephone.



Now that you know more...what would you want to do if it were you or your children?

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Petra - posted on 10/09/2010

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Speaking as someone who is currently a candidate for a cochlear implant, I would certainly have the surgery performed on my child if he were legally deaf, just as I would have him wear glasses or explore the option of corneal implants if he had vision problems.

I am legally deaf in one ear and seriously impaired in the other. Hearing aids would actually speed up my degenerative hearing loss as they amplify sounds, thus increasing the rate at which cilia in my ears die. I will definitely be getting the implant once I am completely, legally deaf - which, at my last appointment, was one of the criteria for the implant. I would not hesitate to make this call if my son were deaf as well.

Krista - posted on 10/10/2010

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Here's a bit more info:

Generally, the more experience a person has had with hearing and the shorter the duration of their deafness, the more benefit they can expect to receive. Benefits vary from excellent, the ability to understand speech without visual cues (as on the telephone), to minimal, the improved ability to lip-read.

Young children are excellent candidates for cochlear implantation because they have robust central nervous system plasticity, which allows them to make use of the sound the implant provides. Children implanted early, who do not have other significant developmental disabilities, and when coupled with intensive post-implantation speech and language therapy, may acquire age appropriate speech, language, developmental, and social skills.
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So Dana, I believe your sister was saying that people shouldn't get implants for their kids, but should leave it up to the child when he/she is of an age to decide. And with most things, I agree, but when it comes to cochlear implants, time IS of the essence.

April, I think where you do still have SOME hearing, you'd be a good candidate. Someone who had been 100% deaf for years and years, however, would have a harder time, as their brain wouldn't know what a cat sounds like, for example. So when the implant hears a cat, and sends that electrical impulse to the brain, it would sound like goodness-knows-what. But if someone like yourself, or like my brother, who has an idea of what meowing sounds like, had an implant, at FIRST, the implant would make the cat sound like goodness knows what. But the brain is elastic. And it would have the visual cue "That is a cat. I know what sound a cat makes. I am hearing something, but it does not sound like a cat, so I will re-wire myself so that I am hearing that noise as the proper noise that a cat makes." And after awhile, once your brain has developed new pathways, you DO hear a meow. Chorost said that when he first got his implant, everybody sounded like Minnie Mouse. It took awhile before his brain said, "Wait, a male is speaking, and males' voices are lower, so I'm gonna rewire myself to hear that voice as being in a lower register."

It's really freaking cool, when you think about it.

Krista - posted on 10/10/2010

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i am pretty attached to my hearing aid too. could you ask him if i'd have to give up my aid if i got the implant in the bad ear?

I'll ask him, but you'll want to check with a specialist as well, because his situation was different. He had a hearing aid, but when he lost his hearing 100%, the aid was rendered useless.

The thing with an implant is that it is basically firing electrical impulses into your brain, which your brain then interprets as sound. As far as keeping your hearing aid in, I'm not sure how that would work, because you'd be hearing all of these new twirtles, tweets and buzzes from the implant, and your brain would be really busy trying to build all of these new pathways in order to translate that stuff into actual sounds. So would wearing the hearing aid impede the process, due to you basically hearing two things at once? Or would it aid the process by providing your brain with clues on what things should sound like?

I think, like Dana said, the best thing is to go to a doctor ASAP for a consultation and at least get assessed while you still DO have some hearing left, so that you're able to make a decision without being in a panic.

Rosie - posted on 10/10/2010

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i would definitely get one for my child or myself. no question. i gave my child eye surgery so he could see better, why wouldn't i do the same for his hearing?
this whole thing kindof reminds me of something i've heard about high functioning autism children. they are saying they shouldn't have to go through all the therapy to help them perform better in society. people should conform to them, and their disability. it doesn't make sense to me. i can't imagine not giving my child the tools he needs to function in society.

Krista - posted on 10/10/2010

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And April, if you ever have any questions about the experience of cochlear implants, please feel free to let me know, and I'll pass them along to my half-brother. I'm sure he'd be more than happy to help out. He was v. hard of hearing at birth, due to his mother catching rubella in her first trimester (her MD told her her shots were up to date -- they weren't.) He wasn't supposed to even be able to talk, due to the severity of his hearing impairment, but in a strange twist of fate, his mom is a teacher for the deaf (I know, what are the odds, right?) Anyhoodle, she made sure to teach him to speak properly, and he's now perfectly bilingual (and trying to learn Japanese, the crazy bastard). He lost the remainder of his hearing at age 20, and was absolutely devastated. He was fast-tracked for an implant, because your brain does much better at interpreting the new electrical impulses as sound if it remembers what things are SUPPOSED to sound like. So he does really well now -- is finishing up his undergrad degree and contemplating his future. Thanks to that implant, his complete loss of hearing became a temporary setback, instead of an irreversible upheaval to his entire life and future.

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49 Comments

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Faye - posted on 02/20/2012

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My cousin was born deaf, they found out when she was about 6 months old. She had hearing aids all of her life, (each checkup gave her the newest, greatest and smaller than the previous hearing aid) one ear was able to hear some while the other was completely non functioning. She lost the remaining hearing in the fall of 2005. She made an appointment with her specialist in Denver, (who had seen her for years). She was told at the time that she was a great candidate for the implant.



She was 35 when she had her implant done in July 2006. She LOVES IT! After her surgery and as she healed she had to learn what each sound was (dog lapping from the water bowl, nail clippers on toes). She did not realize until after her surgery how much her 4 kids fought with each other.



While she was growing up, my uncle was of the thought that she needed to learn to speak and "hear" like others and refused to learn sign language. My aunt and other cousins learned to sign. Once the TTY system was in place with the phone companies, they purchased 4 units, one for each house. Growing up we learned to face her when we spoke, as she could read lips and all the others in the room could hear the conversation.

Alyssa - posted on 10/12/2010

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In my right ear I wear a hearing aid, had the choice of getting a Cochlear implant but decided against it. Being placed near your brain it is a scary thought and obviously a big surgery, I had three surgerys done on my ear to repair a burst eardrum and they weren't fun, and were quite scary for me. Hearing aids are not bad at all! Just replacing the battery stinks. If my son has any hearing problems and this comes up as an option for him along with a hearing aid, unless he is old enough to decide for himself and can really understand, he will get a hearing aid just like his mama! :)

April - posted on 10/12/2010

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every time someone new joins this debate, i change my mind again about getting an implant! keep them coming!

[deleted account]

I would definitely consider it for myself or for my son. No questions about it. Like someone else said, I would consider it right up there with glasses, braces, leg braces, corrective shoes.

Sherri - posted on 10/11/2010

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I would want it and I would implant it in my children as soon as it was deemed safe. I would not let them have a say as I think it would be for the betterment of them.

Krista - posted on 10/11/2010

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The parents should be given the choice to do it early or let the children decide when they are older.

With most things, I agree with that philosophy, but with this one, I do not.

As I quoted below, young children have a much more adaptable central nervous system, and can obtain much better results from the implant. As we get older, that adaptability lessens.

So a child implanted at 12 months would have VERY different results from one implanted at 12 years -- and it could make the difference between being able to easily function in society...or not.

And no, these kids aren't sick. But neither is a child with severe nearsightedness. But you would still get glasses for them so that they're able to see, right?

Jennifer - posted on 10/11/2010

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As the sister of a deaf brother who falls into that very small category of deafness incompatible with the cochlear, I would definitely get one for my child as soon as possible. I think if you did it right away there would never be a culture issue and it would give them the best opportunity to adjust to the hearing world.



I know if he could my brother would choose to hear in an instant.

[deleted account]

It's personal choice. Some people want to hear and they should be given every opportunity to do so, but the deaf community doesn't view their lack of hearing as a bad thing. Many of them are at peace with who they are and they wish to bring their children up the same way.

If everyone in a child's family is deaf then a cochlear implant might be seen as a disadvantage for them. They see being deaf as an identity and they don't want to deprive their children of this.

The parents should be given the choice to do it early or let the children decide when they are older. I don't think it can be considered in the same league as depriving a child of medical treatment for an illness because they are not actually sick, many of them are in good health.

Dana - posted on 10/10/2010

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Well, I'd send my sister your way but, I don't think she'd help out with your dilemma. ;) I have checked out that group before to let her know about it but, it seemed pretty stagnant so I didn't bother.

April - posted on 10/10/2010

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i also posted this posted this debate in the community i created called Moms who are deaf or hard of hearing...i only have like 20 members but we'll see if anyone responds!! if you would like to join or know someone who would...ANYONE is welcome. i don't care who is hearing deaf HOH or whatever!! everyone is welcome!!

Dana - posted on 10/10/2010

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April, can you at least get a consultation with a doctor? I think that's the best way to go. Just see what your options are, that way you can make an informed decision.

April - posted on 10/10/2010

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i wonder if i would even be a candidate for an implant. not sure what the criteria are for it. i lost my hearing so long ago that i do not remember being what things are supposed to sound like. i only know what things sound like with my hearing aid. i am pretty attached to my hearing aid too. could you ask him if i'd have to give up my aid if i got the implant in the bad ear? *i am so attached that even at 29 years old, I will actually cry if it stops working! It is torture to me to have to wait for it to get fixed!)

Dana - posted on 10/10/2010

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Tinnitus scares the crap out of me. :| My husband is a musician and we're both around loud music ALL the time. I can't imagine what a small piece of hell that would be. I'm sorry both you ladies have to deal with it.

April - posted on 10/10/2010

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@ Petra...the tinnitus drives me up a wall and i can't understand where it's coming from. it just started happening recently. It used to happen once in a blue moon and now it's all the time.

@Krista, thank you for the book recommendation and inspiring me to do more research before I make a decision!

Krista - posted on 10/09/2010

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"April Pride" -- that would be an AWESOME country singer name! Seriously though, April, check out Chorost's book -- it's great.

Petra - posted on 10/09/2010

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@ Sharon - I have no idea how much the implant is - I'm still functional and plan to ride it out as long as I can :-) As the end nears, my partner and I will look into it further and make plans to finance it. Unfortunately, most benefits plans have sweet f-a for hearing aids/surgeries :-(

@ April - I actually do not wear a hearing aid, at the advice of a specialist who performed my rhinoplasty (in the hopes of proactive damage control, not for cosmetic reasons). My mother had me seeing a local ear/nose/throat doc and he had been recommending a hearing aid since I was about 13. I hated the dude, so she took me for a second opinion and he was much more open to putting it off until absolutely necessary, as well as exploring other options. Thus far, if I plug my left ear I can't determine directionality at all, I can't make any sense of words or sounds I hear - deaf. My left ear is hanging in there, but I lose approximately a decibel per year. It is inevitable, but until I can't function without an aid, I won't be getting one. I also have tinnitus 24/7 - it drives me nuts!

April - posted on 10/09/2010

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i understand Deaf Pride, but I don't consider myself to have Deaf Pride. I consider myself to have April Pride. To get an implant...it would physically, emotionally, and psychologically change me. the idea of it scares me. I like me the way i am and i like my hearing aid. it's a part of me, the way an arm or a leg is part of your body

Dana - posted on 10/09/2010

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I have to go to bed, ladies, and I'm really enjoying this thread, damn it! I'll check back in tomorrow. Night everyone. :)

Dana - posted on 10/09/2010

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That sucks April. I would imagine having the implant would end all that.

April - posted on 10/09/2010

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Dana S. it is interesting how you explained that for some, being deaf is their identity and that "without the handicap, who would they be?"

I guess they are people that don't want to be lost or caught in a limbo. For me, I've always felt that I couldn't please hearing people or deaf people. No matter what I do, someone is unhappy. Hearing people don't want me to sign because it's easier on them if i don't. Deaf people don't want me to talk. Sign or talk...somebody is judging me.

Krista - posted on 10/09/2010

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My sister has sat there and called people with the implants "freaks". I asked her how she would feel if people called her a freak for being deaf.

Yeah, I was pretty pissed with her for that one.

[deleted account]

"I think some people who have dealt with a handicap have let it consume them, It's their whole identity. With out their handicap, who would they be?"

That about sums up my thoughts. As far as I'm concerned they have a false sense of security and they're overcompensating so to speak. "I'm deaf and I"m proud!"

Sorry, April....I hope I haven't offended you. This has just been my experience.

Krista - posted on 10/09/2010

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I honestly have no insight as to why the Deaf community has gone from accepting their deafness, to being proud of it, to (in some cases) feeling superior about it. I mean, I'm all for making lemons out of lemonade. And if someone is happy with who they are as a deaf individual, my proverbial hat is off to them. But I don't like this sentiment that cochlear implants are basically genocide for the Deaf community, or when Deaf parents hope and pray for a deaf child.

April - posted on 10/09/2010

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i'm perfectly happy the way i am, but the reason i am considering it is because when i'm done raising kids and i feel ready to join the work force (i have a teaching degree to put to use), i feel that it will improve my chances of being hired.

Dana - posted on 10/09/2010

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It's ironic, isn't it, April. My sister has sat there and called people with the implants "freaks". I asked her how she would feel if people called her a freak for being deaf. It's very frustrating for me because I have lived my whole life defending my sister against others only to hear her say the exact same things about other people. I really don't understand why some deaf people have this "superior" attitude. Though, like I've said, I think it all falls on insecurities. I think some people who have dealt with a handicap have let it consume them, It's their whole identity. With out their handicap, who would they be? Like I said, it's very frustrating to me.
I wish my sister could hear her children's voice, I wish she could hear the music that she sways to, I wish she could hear our mother's voice. I spent hours trying to help her learn to whistle years ago, she never was able too, little things like that...it's heart breaking.

[deleted account]

April, that just seems obsurd to me - any idea why the community is like that. A close friend of mine works with deaf people and she's always telling me stories just like what you've explained. They don't want to be judged but they want to judge us. At least that's what it's like from where I sit!

Thanks April! Good luck with whatever you decide!

April - posted on 10/09/2010

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not only do people in Deaf culture oppose of this surgery, but quite a few people not part of the culture are leery of anything that involves surgery near the brain.

April - posted on 10/09/2010

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@ everyone Thank you everyone for all your input! I am profoundly deaf in my right ear and severely deaf in my left. I have been torn over having a cochlear implant. i didn't know if it was for me. I've been deaf for 26 years (since i was 3). i have always felt that I do just fine with a hearing aid and i speak well enough for others to understand me. i am a fluent signer but no one to sign to.

@ Petra--- thank you for your post about how your hearing aid was hurting your hearing. i've been having some ringing in my ears for quite some time now. and i think it is because of the hearing aid itself, which you have brought to my attention. it changes everything for me. i may seriously consider an implant

@ Dana--- i have a few deaf friends that get mad if i act like i'm hearing. for example, we went out to eat and they all ordered by pointing to what they wanted on the menu. i didn't want to point...i am a picky eater and wanted a special order. so i explained what i wanted and all my deaf friends gave me dirty looks for using my voice.

[deleted account]

No offence to you or your sister, Dana, but I've heard the deaf community is extremely cliquey.....as if they almost look down on us hearing folk and want nothing to do with us. I tend to agree with you - their insecurities have clouded their judgement.

Dana - posted on 10/09/2010

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Dana, some people would be against it because it still is serious surgery and some babies have died from it.



My sister, who is deaf, and I greatly disagree on this subject. (Krista E has been in the middle of one of our disagreements on FB, lol ) She gets seriously pissed off at me about the whole subject. I avoid it at all costs. She feels that people are trying to fix something that isn't "wrong". She loves her deaf culture and feels like it's being destroyed. I think (although I don't say it to her) that her insecurities throughout life have clouded her judgment. When you spend so many years trying to find your "spot" in life, it's hard to give that up and make it disappear. It saddens me because she has no idea what she's missing. She's been completely deaf since she was born.

Krista - posted on 10/09/2010

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If anybody is interested, a gentleman named Michael Chorost put out a book called "Rebuilt" about his experience with getting a cochlear implant. It's wry, funny, and he explains the mechanisms of how it works in a way that is very understandable. I highly recommend it. He's also a really nice guy -- my dad emailed him a few times for advice when my brother was getting his implant, and he was really helpful and informative.

Charlie - posted on 10/09/2010

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Of course i would get it for me and my child , why would i deprive them of the sound of music , laughter , the ocean , birds singing those are some of lifes most beautiful things !

Caitlin - posted on 10/09/2010

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I would get it in a second. I'm a hearing aid wearer (when I want to hear well - not much since the baby in in her eardrum piercing shriek stage). I would want to give my child every opertunity possible. I would also make sure my child learned sign language, to be a part of the deaf community, because you can't always wear the implants, and it would be nice for my child to be able to know other people and kids with similar challenges.

Some people in the deaf community don't think that it's a handicap being deaf and are fine with speaking sign language amongst each other, and dont really appreciate the new trends of teaching kid to lipread and not sign language, Personally, i'd have my kid do all of those things if she was deaf. I'm all for inclusion, and it's raelly hard to learn sign language as an adult (I tried, but couldn't keep up).

[deleted account]

Yes. I wouldn't even bat an eye or give the option a 2nd thought if my son was a candiate.

@Petra-I wish you all the luck with it! If yo udon't mind sharing, may I ask about how pricey the implant is?

[deleted account]

I would get it for my child. Afriend of ours was born deaf and got one last year and it completely changed his life. He has been saving up for years to be able to get the second one in as the health care here only pays for one ear. Not even a question in my mind that I would get the surgery for any of our children if needed

[deleted account]

Yes I would for either me or my son. Why would anyone in their right mind oppose something that will improves their hearing in turn possibly improve their quality of life?!?

Krista - posted on 10/09/2010

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I would absolutely get it for my child, mainly because the success rate tends to be MUCH higher if the surgery takes place soon after birth, or shortly after the loss of hearing.

I know there is some controversy within the Deaf community, who feel that there is nothing about a deaf child that needs to be "fixed" and that cochlear implants may spell the end of their culture.

However, I think that reality must be faced -- if you cannot hear, you ARE at a disadvantage in our society. And why would you deliberately keep your child disadvantaged, if there was a way to rectify it?

My brother got one after he lost the rest of his hearing, and he does not regret it for a second.

Schmoopy - posted on 10/09/2010

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I would get it as early as possible to ensure my child had every advantage in learning to hear, speak and learn.

As parents we make life choices for our children all the time, effectively playing God. So why not this? Modern science has given us the power to defeat all kinds of things, including many devastating childhood issues (like polio, etc, with help of vaccinations, but that's a whole other debate). Why wouldn't we, as parents, use every single advantage at our disposal???

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