Implants To Improve Hearing Now Available To More People

June 24, 1998

Cochlear implants, surgically implanted medical devices that improve hearing, are now available at UC San Francisco to a wider range of people with hearing loss than ever before.

While cochlear implants have been available for many years to people with essentially no hearing in either ear -- defined as profound hearing loss -- UCSF's cochlear implant program now makes this technology available to people who hear slightly, which is defined as severe hearing loss, said Jan Larky, MA, CCC-A, coordinator of the UCSF Cochlear Implant Project. People with severe hearing loss and reduced speech clarity are encouraged to contact the implant project, a part of UCSF Stanford Health Care, as a study to show the benefits of this implant for those with severe hearing loss is currently under way.

"These are people who would otherwise have had to wait until their hearing loss progressed to the profound stage to receive a cochlear implant," Larky said.

Instead, however, people with severe hearing loss can now reap the benefits of cochlear implants before their hearing loss worsens. And while improved hearing is the obvious benefit of cochlear implants, the effects are even more far reaching than that, Larky said.

"It's really about interpersonal, human connection," Larky said. "It's about having the ability to communicate and not feel isolated."

No one knows that better than cochlear implant recipients, such as Win Bottum, a 54-year-old Marin County psychologist who lost his hearing over the course of a year about two years ago.

Doctors still do not know what caused Bottum's dramatic hearing loss. But Bottum said he does know that more than just his hearing was at stake.

Deafness, he said, probably would have cost him his career, and would definitely have affected his ability to communicate easily with friends and family and the sense of safety that comes with being able to hear when home alone or driving.

Though some losses, like the ability to enjoy music, can't always be recovered with a cochlear implant, Bottum said the implant has made all the difference in maintaining the life he knew before his hearing loss.

"For someone who has been hearing all their life and then loses it, it's a miraculous operation. It's nothing short of that," he said. "It's a profoundly saving experience."

Cochlear implants consist of three parts: the implant itself, which is surgically implanted and works by direct electrical stimulation of the auditory nerve; a small headpiece/microphone, which is worn externally; and a speech processor, which is worn on the body, much like a pager, and converts sound into digital signals which are then transmitted to the internal component. Electrodes inside the inner ear stimulate the hearing nerve and the brain interprets these signals as sound.

Getting an implant does not have to be painful or expensive, Larky said. Implant surgeries usually take about four hours, and patients are usually functioning normally and out of the hospital within 24 hours, though some may experience some discomfort or dizziness, Larky said. In addition, cochlear implants are covered by most insurance.

Patients for the current study must be 18 or older, generally healthy and have severe or profound hearing loss. Candidates must have worn hearing aids for at least two months with little benefit.

Call (415)476-2464 for more details or e-mail

University of California - San Francisco

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