What is a cochlear implant?

A surgically implanted device that aims to restore useful hearing for people with significant hearing difficulties.  It has two parts: one that is implanted into the ear during an operation, and one worn externally like a hearing aid.

What is the difference between a cochlear implant and a hearing aid?

A hearing aid makes sounds louder so that a person with hearing loss can hear them again.  No surgery is required, and modern hearing aids can be individually fitted to a person’s hearing.  Sometimes making sounds louder is not enough to restore useful hearing.  A cochlear implant bypasses the parts of the ear that are not working and stimulates the hearing nerve directly. Cochlear implant hearing is very different to normal hearing and it can take some time to get used to this.

When is a cochlear implant more suitable than a hearing aid?

A cochlear implant becomes an option when you have significant listening difficulties even with well-fitted hearing aids.  This is usually when the hearing loss is quite severe. Once it becomes difficult or impossible to understand on the phone, it may be time to consider a cochlear implant. While it won't give you back normal hearing, a cochlear implant can offer long-term stable hearing in the implanted ear that won't get worse over time. To find out if you might be suitable, it is best to be seen by a clinic that specialises in cochlear implant work.

How do I know if a cochlear implant is an option for me?

Talk to your audiologist or GP about your hearing problems.  They can give a referral to an expert team who can provide an assessment of your chances of benefit from a cochlear implant.  The team will have specialist audiologists and ear surgeons (otologists) who can provide detailed information relating to your individual situation.  You can also contact your closest cochlear implant clinic directly.

You may wish to speak with other people in your situation or to those who have had personal experience with a cochlear implant. Cicada Australia is a volunteer group supporting people with cochlear implants. They hold social gatherings to meet with cochlear implant recipients and other people with hearing loss to share advice and information.

Why might I not be suitable for a cochlear implant?

  • Hearing aids, once they are properly fitted, may provide you with better hearing than what is expected from a cochlear implant. Keep in mind that your hearing and the technology can change over time so you may want to ask for another evaluation in a few years.
  • Some problems that cause deafness cannot be fixed with a cochlear implant
  • If you have been deaf since birth, you have limited benefit from a cochlear implant
  • If you have health problems that mean there is some risk in having the operation, you may not be suitable. Age is usually not a barrier to implantation.

Will a cochlear implant give me back normal hearing?

Although most people have significant improvements to their hearing after having a cochlear implant, it does not provide normal hearing.  Results are somewhat unpredictable and can sometimes take considerable time to be fully realised.

Will I retain my natural hearing?

In general, it is likely that you will lose your natural hearing in the implanted ear but due to improvements in surgery and implant design, the situation is getting better all the time.

Will I still use my hearing aid in the non-implanted ear?

In most cases, the worse hearing ear will receive the cochlear implant, leaving the better ear unchanged and able to use a hearing aid. Although the hearing from the cochlear implant and a hearing aid are quite different, most people gain the best results by using both ears.

What are the costs of having a cochlear implant?

Fortunately, in Australia, the costs of the cochlear implant device, surgery and fitting are mostly covered through public funding or private health insurance.  There are ongoing costs when using a cochlear implant including batteries, occasional spare parts, and upgrades that come along approximately every five years. Hearing Australia provides maintenance services, upgrades, and replacement parts for clients who are eligible for the Australian Government Hearing Services Program.

If you are eligible for support from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) or the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), you can contact them directly for more information.