Thursday, September 24, 2009

New smaller cochlear implant now on the market

From The Arizona Daily Wildcat, student newspaper at the University of Arizona:

Dorie Shapiro (pictured) will be able to listen to an iPod for the first time in November, with the help of a new cochlear implant, the Nucleus 5 system, which was approved on Sept. 8 by the Food and Drug Administration.

A cochlear implant is an electronic hearing device for people with severe to profound nerve deafness, which works by electrically stimulating nerves inside the inner ear, according to the Food and Drug Administration.

The Nucleus 5 system is supposed to be more “human-like,” Shapiro said, jokingly adding, “not that what I hear now sounds computer-like.” It is also the smallest and the most water resistant cochlear implant.

The surgical implant uses an electronic device inserted into the cochlea — the auditory portion of the inner ear — which acts as a receptor for sound, sending signals to the brain based on the frequency of sound that it picks up as an external processor, said speech and hearing sciences professor Kate Bunton.

Debate within the deaf community has continued since the first cochlear implants were approved in the 1990s, said Bunton. Some members of the deaf community feel that since they were born deaf, they do not need an implant that will change them, Bunton said. They are able to successfully communicate by signing and lip reading and feel surgical implants threaten the strong deaf culture they have embraced. “I believe everyone should stand by their own opinion,” Shapiro said. “I have a lot of friends who don’t have hearing devices because they don’t believe in it.”

Shapiro, a business sophomore, said she had complications with her first surgery when she was three years old. She didn’t get the full effect of the implants and wasn’t able to hear as well as she should have been able to. At the age of eight, she went into surgery again and gained better hearing.Today, children are receiving cochlear implants as young as six months old, said Bunton, which Shapiro feels is better than getting them implanted at an older age.

“If you think about it, if you’re growing up and you don’t hear for a period of time, and you’re not used to it, the first time can be scary,” Shapiro said. Shapiro is the only member of her family who is hearing impaired and said she identifies with the deaf community, even though she is able to communicate with people orally.

Cass Faux, a clinical professor at the Speech, Language and Hearing Clinic on campus said that while she cannot speak for the deaf community, she understands how they might feel about losing aspects of the deaf culture. Faux said she knows adults who are hearing impaired and are providing themselves and their children with cochlear implants. “I know a lot of people who were raised with deaf families who are supporting the cochlear implant more and more,” she said.

Shapiro said she is a stronger person now, after learning how to communicate with people and going through her cochlear implant surgeries.With her eyes slightly watery, she said, “Everyone should be a part of this world — I never felt left out, everyone has always included me, but there are times that people just don’t care and don’t help you.”

Shapiro continued, “People shouldn’t treat others differently because we don’t want to feel different.”