A cochlear implant provides access to sounds for people who get little or no benefit from hearing aids. It is a highly technical medical device consisting of internal and external parts and is designed to bypass damaged hair cells in the inner ear and directly stimulate the auditory nerve. The brain experiences this stimulation as sound sensation.
The visible parts of a cochlear implant are called the speech processor and transmitting coil. It consists of a microphone, batteries and a mini-computer that analyses incoming sounds and converts them into digital signals. These signals are then transmitted through the skin via the coil to the internal implant by means of radio waves.
Nucleus 5 Sound Processor
The internal implant sends the sound captured by the sound processor to the cochlea (inner ear) as electronic signals which are interpreted as sound.
An audiogram, as seen below, is a graph of your hearing and shows different sounds. The banana shape indicates all the speech sounds when they're spoken at normal conversational volume. If your hearing falls into the profound loss area at the bottom of the graph, then you may not be able to hear all conversational sounds, even with strong hearing aids. A cochlear implant may then be a viable alternative.
The implant operation lasts for 2-3 hours and carries the normal risks of any surgery requiring general anaesthetic. The surgical process is explained in detail during assessment.
“My CI [cochlear implant] has given me back my independence, reconnected me with my family and friends and has opened up a world of options. The world is a much easier, friendlier and more accessible place!” - Elena Keith
I like that I can hear and control my own voice and nobody says ‘I beg your pardon’ to me anymore. I feel like I am living in the real world and taking part in all it offers.” - Lynne Kelly
New Zealand has two government-funded cochlear implant programmes. They are divided into North and South programmes and each cover roughly the same number of people.
The Northern Cochlear Implant Programme covers the region from Kaitaia to Taupo. Contact the Clinical Coordinator on email@example.com or call 09 373 7956. Alternatively speak to your ENT specialist or audiologist.
The Southern Cochlear Implant Programme covers all regions south of Taupo.
Contact the Programme Administrator on firstname.lastname@example.org or 0800 500 405. Alternatively speak to your ENT specialist or audiologist.
The programmes fund limited numbers of implants, and the waiting list is currently long. Whilst some will have their procedure fully-funded, others may receive a partial subsidy.
Candidates can opt for private surgery, which costs about $50,000.
Further helpful information is available at:Cochlear Ltd MED-EL Ltd Hear-It NZ Audiological Society British Cochlear Implant Group