April 9, 2012


Cochlear Implants Redefine What It Means To Be Deaf (NPR, 4/08/12, All Things Considered )

Experts say that while they know that 1 in 1,000 children are born genetically deaf every year, it's almost impossible to track the rate of deafness over time. Hearing impairment is a spectrum -- and it changes.

So have its causes. Diseases like rubella, scarlet fever and measles that caused hearing loss have been all but eradicated with vaccines. But more premature babies with hearing loss are surviving. There also appear to be more children with autism, which has been linked to hearing difficulties.

What is certain is that more than half of the children who once were deaf -- for whatever reason -- can now hear. Niparko has performed hundreds of the surgeries, and calls the cochlear implant a remarkable technology.

"It can take in sound waves much like a hearing aid would," Niparko says, "but instead of simply amplifying those sound waves ... [it] can take that energy and translate it into an electrical code."

That code is then sent along a series of contacts placed next to the hearing nerve, and along with small packets of electricity, that hearing nerve is activated, thus re-creating the act of hearing, he says.

The implant works for the vast majority of deaf people, Niparko says, but unfortunately there is a socioeconomic divide that prevents the availability of the device for all deaf cases.

"The device itself is about $32,000 [and] the hospital costs and surgery adds about another $10,000 to $12,000 on that," he says.

With the invention and improvement of the cochlear implant technology, Niparko says all children born deaf and without other disabilities have the chance to be fully integrated into a hearing society.

So in the future, could deafness be a choice? To that, Niparko says, "We're already there."

Posted by at April 9, 2012 3:19 PM

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