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Time for Seniors to Consider Cochlear Implants

Almost 90,000 Australians aged over 50 could receive the life-enhancing benefits of a cochlear implant but so far only 700 have the device, the global leader in cochlear implant technology, Cochlear, said today.

At the start of Seniors Week 2003, Cochlear's CEO/President Mr Jack O'Mahony encouraged adults aged over 50 to consider cochlear implants as solution to their hearing loss.

"About 2.5% of Australians aged over 50 have significant hearing loss, and frequently they have lost part or all of their hearing later in life," he said.

Mr O'Mahony said it had been demonstrated that seniors received significant benefits from cochlear implants.

"Many recipients say a whole new world opens up to them," he said.

"The benefits include increased living independence, greater social confidence, increased communication ability, the ability to use a telephone and better employment opportunities.

"People do not have to accept losing their hearing as they age as a part of life - there is a solution - the cochlear implant."

Mr O'Mahony said cochlear implants were suitable for people of all ages.

"Australia's oldest recipient was 92 and there are 15 people in the country aged over 90 who have a cochlear implant," he said.

Mrs Chris Boyce, of Mona Vale in Sydney, has had a Cochlear Nucleus implant since 1998.

"My Nucleus cochlear implant has given me more self-confidence than I have ever had, as well as a greater gift of communication, and I also have a renewed social life," she said.

"I am sure my family and friends agree that it is the best thing that has happened to me.

"The renewed confidence, the broader outlook, and being able to communicate on the same level as others, without the need to yell, are fantastic."

How Cochlear Nucleus Implants Work

Cochlear implants help people who have severe to profound sensorineural hearing loss, or nerve deafness.

In normal hearing, sound waves move through the ear canal and strike the eardrum. This causes the eardrum and the three bones in the middle ear to vibrate. These vibrations ripple through the fluid in the spiral inner ear - or cochlea - and set off an electrical response in thousands of tiny hair cells. This response is sent up the hearing nerve to the brain, and sound is heard.

When there is sensorineural hearing loss, the tiny hair cells that line the cochlea have been damaged. The damaged hair cells cannot send the electrical impulses to the hearing nerve, so the brain does not receive complete sound information. The greater the hair cell damage, the greater is the hearing loss.

A cochlear implant bypasses the damaged part of the inner ear.

The Nucleus 3 system consists of an array of tiny electrodes and a receiver/stimulator that are implanted, and a speech processor, which is worn outside. The speech processor contains software used to program the implant and can be worn on the body or behind the ear (BTE).

The electrode array is curved to fit into the cochlea to sit close to the auditory nerve. It is connected to the receiver/stimulator, which is placed under the skin behind the ear.

The speech processor is programmed with digital speech coding strategies to suit each individual. It contains a microphone and can be either body worn or worn behind the ear, like a hearing aid. The speech processor analyzes sound received by the microphone and an internal chip digitizes the sound into a coded signal.

The transmitter coil is placed on the head over the implanted receiver and held in place by a magnet. The transmitter sends the code across the skin to the internal implant, where it is converted to electronic signals.

The signals are sent to the electrode array to stimulate the hearing nerve fibers in the cochlea. These signals travel to the brain, where they are recognized as sounds, producing a hearing sensation.

Nucleus is a registered trademark of Cochlear Limited.

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