Google plans to apply artificial intelligence to this problem to better identify, categorize, and separate sound sources. Put simply, this is designed to allow hearing aids and implants to reduce background noise and render speech and other sounds that the person actually wants to hear much clearer.
Another important element is the fitting and personalization of hearing aids and implants. There are big differences in how well people with similar hearing loss can hear when using the same technology, explains Jan Janssen, Cochlear’s chief technology officer. If we can better understand why the pathways that start in the ear and lead to the brain are so different from person to person, there is scope for better customization to ensure people get the most benefit from hearing aid technologies.
Cochlear’s new guidelines for life
Work has also begun on international living guidelines to determine who should be tested and referred for a cochlear implant. There is currently no standardized scale or test score that triggers a referral. The move follows research suggesting that only three out of every 100 people in the US who could benefit from cochlear implants actually get one. Counseling varies widely so people with severe hearing loss do not always seek help and are sometimes given poor advice when they do.
“Many patients today who would benefit from cochlear implants paid for by their insurance company do not have access to this technology,” said Brian Kaplan, chair of the Department of Otorhinolaryngology and director of the Cochlear Implant Foundation. program at the Greater Medical Center of Baltimore.
Many people worry about the cost; The misconception that you must be completely deaf is another obstacle. Kaplan says it takes an average of 12 years for someone to become a good candidate and actually get a cochlear implant. Many people struggle with hearing loss. While hearing aids can increase volume, a cochlear implant can also improve speech intelligibility.
The societal costs of hearing loss and its links to dementia, social isolation and depression are becoming increasingly clear. A study that followed 639 adults for nearly 12 years found that mild hearing loss doubled the risk of dementia, moderate hearing loss tripled it, and those with severe hearing loss were five times more likely to develop dementia. The hope is that the new guidelines will lead to more referrals and allow those who could benefit to get cochlear implants much faster.
Fears about the surgery can also discourage people, but Kaplan says it’s not brain surgery. It is an outpatient procedure that usually takes about an hour, can be performed with local anesthesia and should be very painless. They make a 2 inch incision behind the ear to place the implant. The success rate is very high (less than 0.2 percent reject the implants), with most people reporting improved hearing and speech recognition within three months of implantation. As with any surgery, there is some risk. Cochlear implants don’t work for everyone, the hearing improvement they provide varies, and problems may require further surgery.
If you think you or someone you know could benefit, the first step is to see an audiologist to get tested. Cochlear can advise you on referrals and help you find a hearing implant specialist.
Hearing technology is improving rapidly, with smaller, more efficient hearing aids, better cochlear implants, and improved accessibility options for devices like phones and earbuds. We have guides on streaming audio to hearing aids and cochlear implants and using your smartphone to manage hearing loss. You should also consider the best earplugs to protect your hearing from damage.