Tips & Tricks For Adults

Cochlear Implant Expectations for Friends and Family

Help to make your hearing journey easier and more enjoyable by letting your family, friends, and coworkers know about your hearing and your cochlear implant expectations.

Here are some ways that you can help them learn about cochlear implants, along with some additional information or resources that you can share regarding your hearing.

Talk About Your Hearing Loss

The first step in helping your family, friends, and coworkers is explaining your hearing loss. The important parts are to let your family know that you have a hearing loss and what they can do to help.

The first part is especially important for friends or coworkers, who don’t know you as well and might not even realize you have a hearing loss. Make sure to adapt your language depending on who you are talking to. For younger children, saying something like “daddy has a hearing loss, which means that he doesn’t hear as well as you” can get the point across. Or, you can go into a more technical description about the different types of hearing loss and show them a video that explains the cause of your hearing loss.

Then, let them know what they can do to help communicate well with you:

  • Explain what sounds sound like to you. Some people might assume that hearing with a cochlear implant is just like natural hearing, so that if they can hear something you should be able to as well.
  • There will be situations where you might have difficulties hearing, so let your family know if you’re in a situation like this. And, let them know the best ways to communicate with you: things like speaking clearly, not yelling, sitting closer to you, and avoiding situations with excess background noise.
  • When you aren’t wearing your audio processor you might not be able to hear. Mention that there are times when you’ll routinely remove your audio processor, like when sleeping.
  • Do you have one cochlear implant, or do you have bilateral cochlear implants? If you have hearing loss in both ears, but an implant in just one, then it’s important to tell your family that you are totally reliant on your implanted ear for hearing.

Talk About Your Cochlear Implant Expectations

Once your family understands your hearing loss, then they can better understand how you hear with a cochlear implant. The big parts here are explaining that a cochlear implant does not restore natural hearing and that learning to hear with a cochlear implant is a journey.

[mk_blockquote style=”quote-style” font_family=”none” text_size=”12″ align=”left”]“My family knew there was something that could help me: but that was the extent of their knowledge. I don’t think they really grasped the concept and just assumed it would be like turning on a light by flipping a switch.” –Adam Fitzgerald, bilateral MED-EL cochlear implant recipient.[/mk_blockquote]

Of course these assumptions aren’t malicious, they’re just what happens when someone doesn’t fully understand that using a cochlear implant is the same as learning how to hear sounds all over again.

So, to help set reasonable expectations, start by teaching your family how a cochlear implant works:

  • Let your family know exactly how your cochlear implant system works, and that it has two parts—only one of which is visible called the audio processor. Explain that the audio processor picks up sounds with its microphone and then sends signals wirelessly to the implant inside your head.
    • Like teaching about hearing loss, you might want to adapt your language. For younger children you could refer to your cochlear implant as something that helps you to hear.
    • If you want to go in depth, share videos that explain the technology behind cochlear implants.
  • Explain basic maintenance of the audio processor, like how to turn it on and off or change the batteries, so that your family can help you if it’s ever necessary.
  • If you use assistive listening devices, explain what they are and how they can help you hear better in certain situations.

Explain how learning to hear with a cochlear implant is a journey:

  • Some people might think that if you receive the implant on Thursday you’ll be hearing at 100% by Friday. Be honest with them and say that you’ll need time to learn how to hear with a cochlear implant.
  • Let them know about the different fitting sessions and rehabilitation exercises you’ll have, as well as your goals for these sessions so that they can follow your progress.

What were your experiences after receiving a cochlear implant? What expectations did others have?

For a first-hand account of setting cochlear implant expectations for friends and family, check out this guest article from Adam Fitzgerald. Or, if it’s your child who has received a cochlear implant check out our blog post with tips about what to say to siblings.


This article was written with help from Salma Asim, a clinical specialist who focuses on audiology.

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