Being told your child has hearing loss is an emotional experience. There is so much new information to take in, and so many decision to make, that it can be an overwhelming time. Choosing a cochlear implant brand is just one of the decisions you may have to make during this period. But it’s an important one—the cochlear implant you choose now will be the one that allows your child to hear for many years to come.
But with all the different cochlear implants out there, how can you decide which one is right for your child? Well, the person to ask would be someone who has been through that experience. Meet Colleen, a CI supermom whose son Liam is the proud owner of two cochlear implants. Colleen recently put together a great list of questions to ask when choosing a cochlear implant, and she has kindly allowed us to share it here. If you are about to make this big decision for your family, here are Colleen’s top questions to ask your audiologist.
When we sat in the audiologist’s office a few years ago after learning our son had become a candidate for a cochlear implant we knew little about the device. And we knew even less about the different brands and choices we had to make with regards to this major medical equipment our son would likely use for the rest of his life. But yet there we were, charged with an incredible decision, feeling woefully inadequate to the task. Where do we start? Are they all the same? How do you pick?
Fast forward to today and I couldn’t be happier with our decision. But what I remember most about that process was how overwhelmed I was regarding how to go about gathering information. We were handed a stack of literature from three companies and told to choose. I didn’t know at the time what questions to ask. And although we are so grateful for the path we ultimately did choose, I can’t help but think I may have felt less anxious and more confident during the process if I’d known what to ask our audiologist about the different devices. I wish I’d asked these questions when we began the process.
Questions About The Internal Implant
The first questions I would have asked would have been about the internal device implanted in my son’s head. After all, this is what is going to be in him for the rest of his life! How crucial it is to start there!
You can ask things like: What makes each internal implant unique? What can you tell me about the electrode array and the placements of the electrodes across the different brands? How does the placement affect how my child hears, or the ways his brain has to work to access sound? What are the size and length comparisons of the device and electrode array? How is the device inserted? Are there any risks associated with the type of device or insertion process? Are any of the brands better for maintaining residual hearing or preserving the structure of the cochlea? Can my child get an MRI with this device? At what Tesla power? Is there any risk of pain or hearing downtime (meaning healing time where he is unable to wear his device) if he needs to get an MRI?
All of these questions can help you to better understand the internal implant that will be in your child’s head. The internal implant is probably the most important component as it is the part that works with your child’s brain to understand sound. I heard one adult cochlear implant candidate joke, “It’s easier for me to divorce my husband than it is for me to get this thing out of my head. I need to know what I’m agreeing to!”
Questions About The Cochlear Implant Company
The next set of questions to ask, in my opinion, revolve around the different cochlear implant companies themselves. You will be working with the company you choose for the length of your child’s life, which for a child implanted at age one is a lot of years! It’s so important to learn about the company behind your device.
I would ask about the philosophy of the company and even their history. Where are they located? What do you know about the reliability of the company and their products? Have they had any recalls? How many and when were they? How long are the warranties on devices? What is the cost to me to replace things after they are no longer under warranty? What is their customer service like? How quickly do they fix/send replacement pieces? Do they have a replacement policy for lost or broken items? Do they make sure that future external processors work with current or previous types of internal implants so that your child has access to future technology regardless? Where/what county is the product made? Is it all made in that country or are some pieces made elsewhere?
These are questions an audiologist may or may not be able to answer, but if they can’t, they can connect you with representatives from the companies to help you.
Questions About The Audio Processor
Lastly I’d ask about the external processor. It may seem funny to leave this until the end, but I’ve realized that this is actually a lesser priority when it comes to choosing a particular brand. The external processors will change over the years and you will have access to upgrades and future technology. In the five years my son has been implanted I’ve seen all three companies come out with new versions of their external processors or new waterproofing options. In this day and age of rapid technological advances, companies are having to move fast to stay competitive. The external processor is not a constant like the internal implant or the company itself. If a company you love doesn’t have a feature you desire on their external processor right now, there’s a good chance they will sometime down the road.
That being said, a few questions you can ask are things like, what external processor options are there? Are there waterproofing options? What kind of batteries do they take? How long is the typical battery life? Are there any interesting features on the device? What kinds of color options do they have? Does it come with assistive listening devices? Do they have any apps I can use on my phone? What choices do I have as far as add ons?
Whichever brand you choose, I wish you all the best on your hearing journey!
Check out Colleen’s blog post about visiting MED-EL’s Headquarters and meeting the people behind her son’s implant.
Getting cochlear implant surgery soon? Check out these 10 questions you shouldn’t miss asking your surgeon.
Find out more about how cochlear implants work and how they could help you or your child.
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