Joan Black, born in the mid-1940s, from Durham, USA, had struggled with hearing problems all her life until having cochlear implant surgery in her 60s. She talks about her experiences with the implant.
When did your hearing loss begin?
I’ve had a hearing problem since the age of two, probably as a result of measles. Doctors advised my mother to put me in an institution because they said I’d “never do anything”. She wasn’t having any of it and would sit me down on the stairs every day and teach me how to speak. As a child I experienced tremendous unhappiness, never knowing what was happening. I hated school and other children would ask why I “talked funny”.
Did you receive any treatment?
I didn’t get hearing aids until I was about eight years old but they were awful – the old analogue type that just made noise louder, not clearer. I tried to drown them in a vase of water.
How did it affect you as an adult?
I just managed to pass my Intermediate Certificate in Australia, where I’m from, and left school as soon as I could, at 15. To everyone’s disbelief, I trained as a secretary but I kept getting fired because I couldn’t hear properly. Eventually I found a kind boss who I could hear. I also developed a lot of patience and a thick skin, as well as finding ways to deal with problems. For instance, I learned to lip read and I also learned that in a restaurant it helps if you sit with your back to a wall.
“Having an implant was the best decision I ever made”Joan Black
What inspired you to get a cochlear implant (CI)?
Although hearing aids had improved, they still weren’t strong enough. After successful cancer treatment, I decided to do something about my poor hearing and discovered that MED-EL had an office near our home. I had my first implant in 2002 and the second in 2006.
Was it a difficult decision?
Not really. I researched it thoroughly and almost everyone I spoke to had had a positive result. The operation was fine, and I had no pain and recovered within a few days.
How was the rehab?
I worked really hard. I went to all my appointments and asked lots of questions and went back if things weren’t right. Within six months I was hearing well.
What difference has it made to your life?
It’s the best decision I ever made. I even want the TV volume lower than my husband now! Before, my hearing loss was a big factor. Now I don’t worry about it. It’s never too late to have a CI. In a way, I think it’s even more important when you’re older because you need companionship more, and that means communicating.
What hearing implant systems are available?
Your ENT doctor will advise you on the most suitable hearing implant system after your assessment.
- Cochlear implant (CI) – For severe-to-profound sensorineural hearing loss. Sounds are picked up by a tiny microphone and converted into electrical signals that are sent to the nerve fibres in your inner ear.
- Middle ear implant – For people with moderate-to-severe sensorineural, conductive or mixed hearing loss who are unable to benefit from conventional hearing aids for medical reasons. It stimulates the tiny bones in your middle ear, enhancing the signal to your inner ear.
- Bone conduction implant – For people with conductive or mixed hearing loss, or single-sided deafness. Bone conduction implants bypass the outer and middle ear, transmitting sound directly to your inner ear through the bone behind your ear.
- Non-implanted bone conduction device – For people with conductive hearing loss where sound cannot reach the inner ear naturally. Bone conduction systems gently vibrate the bone behind the ear to send sound directly to the inner ear, giving natural sound quality with no surgery required.
- Electric acoustic stimulation (EAS) – For people with partial hearing loss who can hear some low-frequency sounds. EAS combines a CI with hearing aid technology. The implant transmits high-frequency sound, while low-frequency sound will be amplified by the hearing aid.