Though cochlear implants have been in use for several decades, the controversy surrounding these devices has only seemed to grow during this time. While some people strongly advocate that the implant has a positive effect on an individual’s life, others claim that it is dangerous both to individual health and the deaf culture at large.
What Are Cochlear Implants?
A cochlear implant is an electronic hearing device which is surgically implanted. The first part of the device is a microphone or transmitter, which is worn externally to pick up sounds in the environment. The second part is the receiver and electrode system, which is implanted under the skin. Typically, the microphone or transmitter is worn directly behind the ear.
Unlike a hearing air, a cochlear implant does not amplify sounds. Instead, it stimulates the auditory nerve, so sounds heard through the implant do not sound the same as they are heard through normal hearing. Voices and environmental noises sound different when heard through a cochlear implant, but those with the device will be able to hear more than if they did not have the implant. Therapy is usually done after the surgery to help the person with the device learn and relearn the sense of hearing.
- Children as young as 12 months can receive cochlear implants, though most children who receive them have the device implanted between the age of two and six.
- Adults can also receive cochlear implants. However, those who have lost their hearing or have partial hearing may experience some challenges learning to associate the sounds they hear through their cochlear implant with the sounds they had heard before.
Pros: Advantages Of Cochlear Implants
The most obvious benefit of cochlear implantation is the increased level of hearing. Those who get the device implanted are able to hear more than without the device. This makes it easier for them to communicate with others and, in many cases, it can make it easier to function in mainstream society. This can have countless advantages throughout a person’s life.
For example, there may be more job opportunities that people may be capable of fulfilling if they have a higher level of hearing due to their cochlear implant. However, it is important to keep in mind that having a cochlear implant doesn’t necessarily guarantee that a person will be able to hear and speak at a relatively normal level. In some cases, the person with the implant can only hear some environmental sounds.
Additionally, children who get the implant are often able to function in mainstream schools rather than through specialized schooling for the deaf. They may or may not need to learn sign language, based on their level of hearing ability. However, it can help them to attend more regular classes and may save on expenses for parents when it comes to other forms of assistive technology, tutoring, interpreters, etc.
Another major benefit of having the cochlear implant is safety. Even if the individual is only able to hear some environmental sounds, it often helps them to be more aware of hazards or risks in their vicinity. Being able to hear things like ambulance sirens, a door opening or someone yelling are a few examples of ways in which cochlear implants could improve the safety and security of the individual who has received the implant.
Cons: Drawbacks Of Cochlear Implants
One drawback of receiving a cochlear implant is that the cost is very high. The implant along with the surgery and post-operative care can easily cost over $50,000. While some insurance plans may cover this cost, there are many individuals who cannot afford to get a cochlear implant even if they want one.
The difference between natural sounds and the way sounds are transmitted through a cochlear implant is also considered to be a disadvantage of this technology. Children typically have an easier time relearning how certain sounds associate to different people and situations, but adults sometimes have difficulty interpreting the unfamiliar sounds they hear through a cochlear implant.
As with any surgery, there is also a risk associated with the procedure itself. In the decades since the device has become available, this risk has been minimized, but there is still a chance that damage to the auditory nerve or facial nerve could occur. Those getting the implant have been encouraged to get immunized for bacterial meningitis since it seems to have a higher incidence among those who have gotten the device.
Controversy Within The Deaf Community
The primary controversy regarding cochlear implants concerns the definition of deafness as a disability. The medical community generally regards deafness as a disability that should be treated in whatever way possible. Meanwhile, many individuals who are deaf feel that deafness is a cultural identity rather than a disability. As a result, they identify closely with the community of deaf individuals and their supporters and feel that cochlear implants imply that there is something wrong with them that needs to be fixed.
The decision to receive a cochlear implant is a very personal one that should be considered on a case-by-case basis with the help of a medical professional. Adults looking to receive the implant or parents of a child who is a candidate for the device should carefully weigh the pros and cons to decide what the best choice for their situation is.