Cochlear Implantation Program

About Cochlear Implants

What is a cochlear implant?

A cochlear implant is a small, complex electronic device that provides hearing to individuals who have hearing-impairment. Cochlear implants restore a sense of hearing to allow the recipient to perceive and understand auditory information in the surrounding environment.

Who is a candidate for a cochlear implant?

Both adults and children can be evaluated for cochlear implantation, regardless of the cause of their hearing loss. Candidacy is based on the degree of hearing impairment. Typical adult candidates have significant hearing loss along with problems understanding words. Furthermore, they do not receive enough benefit from hearing aids. Children older than 12 months are considered candidates if they have severe hearing loss and hearing aids are not providing much help in improving their hearing or speech development. Candidates for cochlear implants need to have a desire to have their hearing improved and will be willing to undergo the rehabilitation process.

How are hearing aids different?

Hearing aids turn up the volume of both sound and speech in the external environment; however, they don’t make sound or speech more understandable. When the cochlea, which is the inner ear hearing organ, has lost some function, then words are unclear and difficult to understand regardless of how loud they are presented. Cochlear implants, which has an electrode that goes inside the inner ear within a fluid channel bypasses this ailing hearing organ and delivers sound information to the inner ear. By doing this, cochlear implants increase the volume of sounds and speech while making those sounds more clear and understandable.

How does a cochlear implant work?

Cochlear implants consist of several components:

  1. A sound processor, which is shaped like a hearing aid, captures sound in the environment and changes it into a digital signal. This signal is then transmitted via a small coil worn behind the processor. This coil sits on the skin surface over the internal part of the implant and is held in place by a small magnet and can transfer this information to the internal part.

  2. The implant is located below the skin behind the ear and is completely sealed off from the outside world. There is nothing that sticks through the skin. This device received information from the external coil and serves as a conduit to conduct the electrical signal toward the inner ear through its connected electrode array.

  3. The electrode array, which is an extremely thin fiber and is placed into the cochlea surgically, serves to receive electrical signals from the implant device and delivers these signals to the auditory nerve via a series of microscopic electrodes.

How are potential candidates chosen?

A formal cochlear implant evaluation consists of outpatient visits to the University of Kentucky Department of Otolaryngology. This will involve meeting with a team of highly trained hearing specialists to determine the level of hearing and candidacy for a cochlear implant. While this process for is somewhat different for adults and children, it does feature a few similarities:

  • An initial consultation, including special hearing tests

  • A standard medical evaluation with an Ear Surgeon (Drs. Jones or Bush)

  • A discussion of the available cochlear implant devices and options available for patients

What can I expect from a cochlear implant?

Outcomes following cochlear implantation vary from patient to patient. Common factors that affect an individual’s ability to benefit include:

  • Previous hearing ability and how long someone has been hard of hearing

  • Age at implantation

  • Therapy approaches

  • Presence of other disabilities

  • Level of motivation

  • A good support system

It is important to recognize that learning to hear again through a cochlear implant is a process and not an event. Our team of specialists are here to care for a support our patients through every step of the process. With dedication, practice, and time, the cochlear implant sound becomes natural. Many people are able to talk on the phone and enjoy music that they haven’t been able to enjoy for years. Our team includes a close collaboration with hearing rehabilitation centers, such as Lexington Hearing and Speech Center and Heuser Hearing Institute, to provide the best and most comprehensive care.

Who performs the procedure? Which devices are available?

The University of Kentucky Department of Otolaryngology has been the primary cochlear implant center of central and eastern Kentucky since 1989. Raleigh Jones, Matt Bush, Beth McNulty, Ken Iverson, Chris Azbell, and Caitlin Fiorillo are fellowship-trained and board-certified cochlear implant surgeons. Over 500 adults and children have undergone cochlear implantation at our instution, which is recognized as a Center of Excellence. Patients at the University of Kentucky have a choice between all three FDA-approved cochlear implant devices.