Hybrid cochlear implant may benefit patients with profound hearing loss

Published on January 12, 2011 at 1:49 AM · No Comments

Hearing loss can affect anyone, at any time. But it can be especially frightening for someone who suddenly starts to lose his hearing during adulthood. Tom Groves, 77, first noticed his diminishing hearing when he was in his early 40s. He was unable to hold conversations with large groups of people; found it nearly impossible to socialize in high-background noise environments like restaurants; and couldn't enjoy radio, TV and movies unless they were captioned. Now, Groves is hearing much better than he has in 30 years, thanks to an experimental hybrid cochlear implant.

Northwestern Memorial Hospital is one of nine centers in the U.S., and the only in Illinois, that is participating in a study investigating the effectiveness of a new cochlear implant device that aims to restore hearing for individuals with high-frequency hearing loss and functional low-frequency hearing.

This group of patients doesn't meet the criteria for conventional cochlear implants because they have near perfect residual hearing in low pitches that allows them to perform well on tests used to determine candidacy for traditional implants. However, their hearing in high pitches is so poor that a hearing aid is not helpful, making them ideally suited for the hybrid implant which addresses both issues.

"We are hopeful that the hybrid cochlear implant will provide a subset of people who were previously not candidates for an implantable device the opportunity to test the device to determine if they can experience sound again," said Northwestern Medicine neurotologist Andrew Fishman, MD, principal investigator of the study, staff in the departments of otolaryngology and neurosurgery at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine, and Mr. Groves' cochlear implant surgeon. "The potential for patients with a significant amount of residual hearing, but a large amount of high-frequency hearing loss, to have an alternative to hearing aids would be a great improvement to what is currently available."

Cochlear implants were FDA approved in 1984 as a treatment option for restoring hearing in people with severe and profound hearing loss. The surgical implant system is designed to stimulate the auditory nerve by bypassing damaged parts of the ear. A small battery-operated mini "computer" and microphone are worn on the outside of the ear and convert sounds into electric signals. The signals are then transmitted to implant electrodes in the cochlea, which stimulate the nerve endings so sound can be perceived by the brain.

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