Hearing aids are an amazing technological invention that have helped and improved the life of millions of hard of hearing people across the world. However, there are cases where the condition of the sufferer is such that even the most powerful hearing aids are not effective. Hearing aids amplify sounds, but when there is severe damage to the inner ear, amplification may not be enough as sounds, although heard, may not be clear and understandable. Fortunately, there are other methods and technologies that can still help people with this type of hearing loss.
One of the most common solutions for those who do not qualify or cannot benefit from a hearing aid are cochlear implants. They are able to help in cases where there is severe or profound hearing loss and hearing aids are no longer effective. Other methods to aid communication include lip reading and learning and using sign language.
What are cochlear implants?
Cochlear implants require a short surgical procedure usually lasting up to 3 hours and do not usually demand lengthy hospitalisation. In most cases, the patient can leave the hospital the same day.
The cochlear implant is a small electronic device that does not amplify sounds but transmits the signal directly to the inner ear, thus skipping the damaged ear cells. It consists of two parts - a tiny computer and an array of electrodes inserted into the cochlea. The external sound processor picks up the sounds and then processes them and converts them into digital information. This information is sent to the internal implant to be transformed into electrical signals. Those signals travel to the cochlea, to the small set of electrodes that stimulates the hearing nerve and sends them to the brain.
If you have hearing loss in both ears, your audiologist may recommend one or two cochlear implants, one for each ear. That way it will be easier to locate the direction of sound and better cope with situations where background noise is present.
Cochlear implants are very beneficial for people with severe and profound hearing loss but it should be noted that they do not restore normal hearing or provide an exact imitation of it. Getting used to the sounds you hear with the implant takes time and patience. Gradually you will find speech clearer and will perceive environmental sounds better.
Lip reading and sign language
Apart from implants, there are other ways that facilitate communication for the hard of hearing. One such method is lip reading. Gestures, facial expressions, lips and tongue shape help in determining what the person opposite is saying or trying to convey. While lip reading has its limitations, it is very useful for aiding the communication process and filling in gaps of sentences or words that were not heard.
Another way is sign language and it is especially helpful for those who are deaf. Learning and using sign language will eliminate the frustration of writing or trying to explain what you want to say and let you express yourself freely. Currently, around 150000 people in the UK use BSL.
The British Deaf Association supports Deaf people and promotes the use of sign language in the UK and Ireland.