Healthy Hearing conversation | Made for iPhone processor by Cochlear
The world’s first Made for iPhone cochlear implant sound processor, approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in June 2017, won’t be commercially available until later this fall, but the device is already making quite an impact in consumer trials. Just ask Mathias Bahnmueller. Cochlear’s Nucleus® 7, he says, has been life changing.
Bahnmueller, a German native and engineer now working in Detroit for the automotive industry, developed bilateral Meniere’s disease at the age of 42. The disease resulted in a rapid deterioration of his sense of hearing. He stopped meeting friends for a drink after work and started biking alone. He had trouble understanding his young daughter, whom he would ask to repeat herself again and again. “After the third time she would say, 'never mind.' It broke my heart,” he remembered.
That started him on a journey that included three generations of hearing aids, each more powerful than the last in an effort to keep up with the progression of his hearing loss. In June of 2016, he received his first cochlear implant. Today he is a patient in Cochlear’s consumer trials. “I love it,” he said of the Cochlear Nucleus 7 Sound Processor. “I’m not giving it up.”
Cochlear implant candidacy
Laurel Mahoney, Au.D., an audiologist at the NYU Langone Health Cochlear Implant Center said cochlear implants are surgically implanted electronic devices used for patients with severe to profound hearing loss who have not been successful with hearing aids.
“We don’t want to implant someone who will get benefit from a hearing aid,” she said, “because we can’t predict yet what outcomes will be with a cochlear implant. We don’t have a magic test to determine who will do well. There's a rigorous candidacy evaluation process. If you're doing reasonably well with a hearing aid, we're going to recommend you try that for awhile. For sure, we always encourage patients to try hearing aids and give them a fair shot.”
Dr. Mahoney said those with sensorineural hearing loss have damaged hair cells in the cochlea. Implanting electrodes into the cochlea bypasses that damage so it can transmit sound more clearly to the brain.
“With hearing aids, you rely on the patient’s anatomy to get the information to the brain. If there is a lot of distortion in the cochlea, there’s going to be limitations through hearing aids rather than through the cochlear implant.”
Hearing life clearly
Although Bahnmueller said he adjusted to hearing aids rather quickly, the progression of his hearing loss was so significant he continued to need higher powered hearing aids. He noticed he was constantly cranking up the volume in order to understand the conversation. “At that point I realized word recognition is important and volume doesn’t always support that,” he said. “It made my life more difficult.”
In fact, it made it very difficult. Not only was communication with his family challenging, the hearing loss also affected his career. To hear effectively, he would make phone calls in his car in order to stream the conversation to his hearing aids. When he traveled internationally on business, he would have to pack a variety of streaming devices along with their power cords, each which performed a different function with his hearing aids. Bahnmueller said Cochlear’s Nucleus 7 has eliminated all of that with the free and easily-downloadable Nucleus Smart app which turns his iPhone into a single integrated control panel for every listening situation.
“I can stream everything with no accessories necessary,” he said. “Everyone uses a telephone which also makes it more discreet. The application is user-friendly, self-explanatory and at your fingertips.”
Connecting to your world
“The app is perfect for all ages,” Dr. Mahoney said. “It’s remarkable how a toddler can find their way into an iPad and upload a movie or their favorite game. It’s also great for a grandparent who loves to FaceTime with her grandchildren. Even my teenagers say 'Wow, I can connect like my friends without standing out.'”
The device’s other features include:
- Nucleus Smart app "Find My Processor" feature which uses location services to determine the last place the device was paired to the iPhone or iPod Touch;
- Hearing Tracker, which records wearing time in speech as well as each time the processor does not detect the implant coil;
- The Nucleus 7 Bimodal Solution which provides synchronized streaming to patients who wear both a cochlear implant and a hearing aid.
The latter comes in handy for Mathias, who wears a cochlear implant on the right side and a hearing aid on the left. Now sound is streamed directly to both devices seamlessly, so he can use his hearing devices as noise cancelling headphones and a streaming device at once while watching movies on long flights abroad. He can take important phone calls at his desk, just like he did before his hearing loss.
“It’s like high definition for me. I can talk on the phone. I can hear you clearly. It’s incredible.”
But perhaps the biggest advantage of his new processor, he says, is the impact it's made on his quality of life -- especially with his family. “Now I can use the phone and FaceTime to communicate with my daughter. I can go with my wife on a date to our favorite restaurant, sit at the bar, suppress the noise around me and still have a comfortable conversation that a year ago was not possible.”
If you suspect you have hearing loss, have your hearing evaluated by a qualified hearing healthcare professional. They can determine which hearing devices can help you hear your best. Search Healthy Hearing’s Find a Professional directory to find a qualified professional in your community.