Med Device Monday: Cochlear Implants

I realize the past few Med Device Mondays have focused on devices that help people regain one of their lost or compromised senses, but after something I witnessed recently, I hope you won't mind one more!

Last week I took my car to the car wash for a much-needed cleaning. While waiting for my car, a mother and her young daughter came and sat down on the bench next to me. The girl was no more than four years old, and full of energy and joy. She saw their car emerge from the tunnel and bolted towards it, laughing with excitement as she did.  The mother looked up just in time and yelled after her to "STOP!", since the car was still in motion. The car was moving slowly enough but the girl was on a collision course that would certainly lead to a bruise and some major tears. However, as soon as she heard her mother, the girl froze at the edge of the curb. She turned, smiled demurely at her mother, and returned to the bench for a hug. It was as she walked back towards us that I noticed the girl had cochlear implants behind each ear. The fact that she heard her mother, and that they now chatted to one another sweetly, was a touching and powerful moment to me: as a mother, a neuroscientist, and a regulatory consultant. 

Cochlear implants are FDA regulated and serve as an example of medical devices at their finest. You may have seen the tear-jerker videos on Facebook: a woman hears her husband's voice for the first time. A baby hears its mother's voice for the first time. A person hears their own voice for the first time. These implants are able to assist the profoundly deaf, for whom hearing aids aren't enough. So how do they work? I'll let FDA explain: 

"A cochlear implant is an implanted electronic hearing device, designed to produce useful hearing sensations to a person with severe to profound nerve deafness by electrically stimulating nerves inside the inner ear.

These implants usually consist of 2 main components:

  • The externally worn microphone, sound processor and transmitter system.
  • The implanted receiver and electrode system, which contains the electronic circuits that receive signals from the external system and send electrical currents to the inner ear.

Currently made devices have a magnet that holds the external system in place next to the implanted internal system. The external system may be worn entirely behind the ear or its parts may be worn in a pocket, belt pouch, or harness.

...A cochlear implant receives sound from the outside environment, processes it, and sends small electric currents near the auditory nerve. These electric currents activate the nerve, which then sends a signal to the brain. The brain learns to recognize this signal and the person experiences this as "hearing"."

Read more from FDA about cochlear implants here, and enjoy the videos of cochlear implants changing lives below! (And maybe fall down a YouTube rabbit hole of these videos, as I did.)

A man films his wife as she hears for the first time in years. 

Sarah Churman getting her first device in (click HERE to see her get her second device in). 

Learn about Aria and AB, one of the companies that manufactures these devices: