Notes From Michelle
“I don’t understand what the difference is between a hearing aid and a cochlear implant is!” “Can you choose which device to wear?” “Isn’t being deaf and hearing impaired the same thing?” “Why can’t you hear the same as someone with a cochlear implant?” These questions are few of many. Both, the hearing aid and cochlear implants are often the source of confusion to those who don’t know about them, or just met someone with either or for the first time.
The million dollar question is: Are these devices the same? The answer is no. Why? Because cochlear implants (CI) is a surgically implanted device that goes in the brain. These electrical pulses stimulate nerve fibers in the cochlea. The auditory (hearing) nerve transmits the signals to the brain where they are interpreted as sound. These devices provide a sense of sound to a person who is profoundly deaf or severely hard of hearing. A hearing aid is a prosthetic device inserted into the ear in order to help a person hear well. A hearing aid consists of an outer shell, or casing, microphones or sometimes dual microphones on the top of the hearing aid that pick up sound. Internal parts that the sound travels through like a digital processor or amplifier (in more advanced hearing aids) where the sound is examined by a computer chip that determines what type of sound came in. The hearing aid then reacts by either turning parts of the sound up or down to help clarify the sound for the user.Hearing aids come in varied styles (Behind the Ear (BTE), In the Canal, Completely in the Canal, Receiver in the Canal, Full Shell, Half Shell, Open Ear (no earmold, only a thin tube and “dome”), and colors.
Why does everyone hear differently with different devices? It depends on the severity of the hearing loss or deafness. Every single person with hearing loss/deafness has different ranges of sounds. It is the device and the person’s anatomy in their ear(s) that need to work together in order to hear something. The devices must pick up signals and send it to ear, then to the brain in order to comprehend what is being heard. Because there is a malfunction somewhere in the ear and or brain, it takes a lot of adjustments to be able to hear correctly and clearly. It may take someone with a hearing loss or deafness a bit longer to comprehend, since the brain and ear work extra hard. For those who lip-read or use ASL, speech can be comprehended faster than some people. Some people hear whispers and soft sounds easy, while for others it can be very difficult. Some people are sensitive towards loud sounds and it bothers them, while some may prefer things to be loud because they can’t pick it up as well. For hearing loss alone there are four levels of severity (mild or severe, temporary or permanent.)
People may not hear or are adapted to tones of voices, speed of speech, clearness of speech, pronunciation of words, volume of sounds, too low/too loud and mumbling. Think about it: As a “regular” hearing person… do you always understand someone who has an accent? If someone is speaking at top speed, do you always catch everything that is being said? What about someone who speaks low in a noisy setting? Your answers are probably no. This is what a typical person who is hearing impaired or deaf experiences all day. There is a constant strain to hear what is being heard. While it’s hard at times, they are both amazing devices that help change and heightens people’s hearing senses to become part of their community again.