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Celebrating 30 Years of Helping People Hear

In October of 1982, cochlear implant recipient, Graham Carrick, heard his daughters’ voices for the first time in his life.

After spending 17 years of his life profoundly deaf, Carrick was able to hear again thanks to the surgical multichannel cochlear implant technology pioneered by Professor Graeme Clark 30 years ago this month.

The first models created by Clark originated in Australia and were trial-tested there through the eighties. The Australian implant wasn’t approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration until 1985 and could only be implanted in adults. Six years and several success stories later, the FDA lowered the implant rate to two years of age, then to 18 months in 1998 and eventually 12 months and younger in 2000.

According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, it is estimated that as of 2012, more than 220,000 lives have been impacted by cochlear implant surgery.

The cochlear implant, often deemed the bionic ear, contains a system of microphones, speech processors, electrodes, transmitters, receivers and stimulators. A portion of the device is surgically implanted behind the ear and on a part of the skull, while other components are used in the inner ear to reach the cochlea.

The cochlear implant is not a “cure” to deafness, but can restore some degree of hearing in people experiencing profound to severe hearing loss. In addition to a severe hearing loss, to be considered for cochlear implants the candidate generally needs a functioning auditory nerve, good speech and communication skills (or a family willing to worth with the patient), a support system, should be in good enough health to undergo surgery and must have lived without hearing for at least a short period of time.

After receiving the implant surgery, the patient generally waits anywhere from one to six weeks (sometimes longer for infants and children) before having the device activated. Once the device is activated, initial results vary widely and most patients will require post-implantation therapy to help the brain adapt and understand new sounds and stimuli.

Once the implant is received, however, the users must be responsible and maintain care for their device for the rest of their life. From possible speech-language therapy sessions to making sure the implant is working properly, there are many follow-up visits required to ensure the longevity and success of the device.

Thankfully though, due to Clark and other cochlear implant pioneers, individuals suffering from hearing loss have been able to outweigh the benefits and risks for the last 30 years and will continue to do so in the future.

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