When people ask, I love to tell them about my cochlear implant. It's an interesting piece of technology, and it works small miracles for those who've lost their hearing.
Success with a cochlear implant is as unique and varied as the lives and circumstances of those who wear them. Much of the literature I've read about them concludes that those who experience the greatest success with word discrimination and understanding are the very young, who are implanted before and/or during language acquisition, or those who've lost their hearing after language acquisition. People like me, who've suffered sudden deafness, have remarkable success, especially if implanted sooner than later. It seems the longer the auditory system goes without sound stimulation, the greater the atrophy of the auditory nerve and receptors, and the harder it is to rehabilitate the hearing system, if it's possible at all.
Some people are just curious about that "thing" behind my ear. I realize I am rather unique. The National Institute of Health reports
that only about 58,000 adults and 38,000 children in America have been
implanted with cochlear devices. There are a lot of people who've never seen a cochlear implant, or even heard of one. Some celebrities on television and the news have made cochlear implants more widely known in recent years, but cochlear implants are still far and few in the general population. It's often mistaken for a Bluetooth device, though there aren't many similarities in its appearance other than it's worn on the ear.
As a teacher, I attend frequent professional development workshops, and I'm occasionally approached with questions about my cochlear implant. This week, I was involved in a week-long training, and had several questions, not only about what a cochlear implant is and how it works, but also about hearing loss in general. Ask me a question and I'll probably tell you more than you wanted to know.
It's no surprise that I am adamant about hearing loss awareness and education. Being uneducated about its impact on the quality of life and on student learning is not okay. I have written in this blog about children in my class with hearing loss, and how it remained unnoticed by either parent or teacher until they entered my classroom. We must be more diligent in recognizing and treating hearing loss. It's a serious health epidemic that cannot be ignored simply because it's perceived as an inconvenience or an inevitable nuisance of growing older. Truth be told, wearing my cochlear implant proudly in plain sight has raised awareness that hearing loss is not just something your grandma has.
The facts are staggering. According to the National Institute of Health, 2 to 3 out of every 1,000 children born in the United States today are born with a detectible level of hearing loss in both ears. 90% of those are born to hearing parents. Approximately 15% (37.5 million) of American adults over the age of 18 have hearing loss, and 1 in 8 over the age of 12 have hearing loss in both ears. 15% of Americans have high frequency hearing loss from exposure to noise at work and leisure activities. About 2% of adults between the ages of 25 to 54 have a disabling hearing loss. It increases to 8.5% in adults aged 55 to 64, 25% of adults aged 65 to 74, and a whopping 50% for adults over 74!
Not just a little hearing loss. Disabling.
And of those who are aware of their hearing loss, fewer than 16% of people under age 69 who could benefit from hearing aids have ever used them. Our national travesty is that many people who want hearing aids aren't able to access them because of their cost -- often running in the thousands of dollars -- and usually not covered by insurance.
I have a friend whose teenaged son suffered sudden deafness about the same time that I did. Because her insurance did not cover hearing aids, her son continued to suffer communication impossibilities until they were able to cover the cost of BiCROS hearing aids by themselves. He was finally fitted in a pair a few weeks ago. MORE THAN TWO YEARS AFTER LOSING HIS HEARING. And his hearing aids aren't even new. They were refurbished from a local hearing association. TWO YEARS!
This is simply unacceptable. As individuals and as a country, we should be doing better to address the issues surrounding hearing loss better than we are. Awareness is just the beginning.
It's time to bring hearing loss to the forefront.
*Stepping down from my soapbox*
For more information, about hearing loss, follow this link to the National Institute of Health.