Only a few years ago John Walkup received his first cochlear implant (CI). John is in his seventies, lives in Pittsboro, North Carolina, USA, and sings in two choirs.
How did the decision to have a CI come about?
My hearing was getting worse and worse, even with a hearing aid. I had to overcome my vanity before I decided to go ahead.
How did you find the rehabilitation?
The rehabilitation turned out to be the most astonishing part of the process. I learned how my brain can translate the implant’s electrical impulses into understandable speech. Initially, speech sounded squeaky and monotonous but that changed with time. It took about a month before I began to feel OK with my new skill though.
What role does music play in your life now?
After years, I can finally listen to music again. And I sing in our church choir and local men’s choir.
What are the differences between hearing speech and hearing music?
With speech, I began by concentrating on the words, and only later on the speaker. As soon as I could perceive a broader spectrum of frequencies, I was able to distinguish between different voices. The challenge with music was that my brain had to adapt to hearing and distinguishing single notes. It took about three months to attune my singing voice to the sounds of the piano. In the course of rehabilitation, it became easier to differentiate various instruments and to hear the single tones of a chord.
It's important to undergo speech and hearing training with audiologists or speech therapists after the operation. This is known as rehabilitation.
Plus, for best results the processor must be adjusted by a technician. How long rehabilitation takes and how intensive it is varies between individuals, but six months is usually the minimum.
“It’s a misconception to expect to be able to hear automatically just because you have an implant,” says speech therapist Tina Moser, from the Wels-Grieskirchen Clinic in Austria.
What has changed in your life since you started using a CI?
I expected that the CI would make me feel self-conscious. This fear disappeared after just a week. The biggest change that the CI brought for me was in my social life. Small get-togethers are enjoyable again and I feel a lot more connected to people. However, larger parties are still too loud for me.
Were your expectations fulfilled?
The result exceeded my expectations by a long way.
How do you see your future?
I hope to be able to improve my skills further and to use all the CI’s potential. I feel as though I’m only at the beginning of this process.
What advice would you give to elderly people who are living with hearing loss?
Forget your vanity and become a part of the community around you again!