My child needs a cochlear implant. Now what?

So, you’ve been to the audiologist, had a few tests run and it looks like your child needs a cochlear implant. You’ve been shown some diagrams and maybe even the implant procedure itself but what exactly does it mean for your child and what are the next steps?

Getting informed is essential to prepare you and your child for a cochlear implant.With the right tools, you’ll be able to make the adjustment an easy one.

What is a cochlear implant?

For some children, the nature of their hearing loss means hearing aids aren’t effective. In particular, children with a profound sensorineural hearing loss don’t hear enough sounds to develop speech and language skills with hearing aids.

A cochlear implant is an alternative device that does some of the work of the inner ear, turning sounds into electrical signals and delivering them directly to the nerve endings in the ear. It will have one part that goes inside your child’s inner ear, which can’t be seen, and a speech processor that is worn on the outside of their head.

An operation will be needed to put the electrical components into the ear.

How does a cochlear implant work?

  1. The microphone on the speech processor picks up sound.
  2. The sound is analysed and turned into a digital code which is sent to the transmitter coil.
  3. The digital code travels across the skin to the internal implant.
  4. The digital code is converted into electronic signals and sent into the electrode array.
  5. The electrode array directly stimulates the auditory nerve fibres in the cochlea.
  6. The auditory nerve carries the electrical signals to the brain where they are interpreted as sound.

What’s involved in the surgery?

The cochlear implant procedure is routine and will be performed by a cochlear implant surgeon or ear, nose and throat (ENT) surgeon.

The operation takes around two to two-and-a-half hours. They’ll need to stay in hospital overnight after the surgery. A small cut is made on the side of the head, the implant is put into position and tests are carried out to measure your child’s response to the device. The wound is then closed off with dissolvable stitches and dressed.

Since the implant won’t be switched on until the ear has completely recovered, your child will still not be able to hear after they wake up. Depending on their age, it’s important to make sure they understand this so they don’t feel disappointed.

What does it cost?

For Australian children, the cost of a hospital stay, surgeon, anaesthetist and cochlear implant device are mostly covered by various forms of state and Commonwealth government funding, plus private health insurance where available. There is usually no cost to the family.

Australian Hearing is funded by the Commonwealth government to provide repair services, replacements parts and batteries for eligible cochlear implant users. Processor upgrades may also be available, depending on eligibility and Commonwealth government funding.

What are the benefits?

  • Hearing a greater range of speech and environmental sounds
  • Hearing and understanding speech more easily, with less effort
  • Possibly understanding some speech without lip-reading
  • Possibly being able to hear and understand speech over the telephone
  • Greater confidence in school and in social aspects of life because of better hearing
  • Possibly greater enjoyment of music.

The next steps

Most children bounce back quickly following a cochlear implant procedure. It generally takes two to four weeks for the ear to settle down. Then it’s time to head back to the audiologist and switch it on. The process involves the audiologist fitting the external speech processor and using a computer to map out the signal that will be picked up by your child.

While your child will still have some limits on their hearing, particularly when surrounded by background noise, cochlear implants will have a significant impact on your child’s ability to hear. Children who receive them before 12 months of age are better able to develop language skills than those who receive them later.

Following the implant, it’s important to try and make hearing and listening as interesting and fun as possible. Like any child with hearing loss, they will need the continued support of those around them to ensure they get used to this change and adjust accordingly.

Encourage your child to make noises, ask them about what sounds they hear, talk them through various words and sounds as you make them. Try to make the process as interactive and fun as possible so that they can approach hearing and communication in a positive way.

Australian Hearing is funded by the Commonwealth government to provide repair services, replacements parts and batteries for eligible cochlear implant users. Click for more information about cochlear implants.