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The Future Of Cochlear Implants

For adult cochlear implant users like Douglas Lynch, who went deaf at the age of 26, the CI returns them to the sound they had lost.

"It was the most profound experience I could ever imagineÂ…I went from just complete and total silence and isolation to, in an instant, being just turned back onto life in all the vibrance of sound," Lynch says.

Lynch received his implant when he was 28. His enthusiasm for the device lead him to work for the company that made his CI, Advanced Bionics, where he is now a spokesman.

Many CI users stress that the device has been invaluable in their day-to-day work life. One remarkable result of the implant is the user's ability to use the telephone, which people with hearing take for granted.

"Being able to use the telephone has been a marvelous benefit of an implant," says CI user Donna Sorkin, Executive Director of Self Help For Hard Of Hearing People, Inc., a consumer, educational organization for the hearing-impaired.

"I don't think there's really anything that replaces the ability to have a conversation with somebody and hear their voice, and converse in that way."

In addition, Sorkin is able to use the technology in combination with other hearing-assisted devices. For example, she can watch a play at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and listen to the actors using the theater's infrared 'Listening Enhancement System.'

"Sometimes I can hear the dialogue better than my husband, who is having to rely on the sound sytem in the theater," Sorkin says.

Sorkin's hearing loss was gradual, though the telltale signs began in her childhood. During hearing tests, she had a difficult time detecting the high-pitched tones. But it wasn't until her late twenties that the sound began to fade noticeably. Finally, at the age of forty, she became profoundly deaf. That year, she received a cochlear implant, and the return of sound changed her life.

Sorkin recalls a recent day when the batteries in her speech processor died. She was jogging in her neighborhood at the time, but instead of going back home, Sorkin decided to reacquaint herself with silence.

She noticed that the birds stopped singing, and that she could no longer detect whether a car was coming up behind her on the street. Then she worried that she would see one of her neighbors.

"I would have to talk to them without any sound, and I was nervous about doing that because I knew I would have difficulty, so at that point I became so frustrated, I turned around and went home to get a battery," Sorkin says.

According to Lynch, the latest device is sixty times faster than the last generation. And he expects the technology to improve. In ten years, Lynch predicts that the implant will be entirely internal.

But today's implant, as Lynch notes, is still very effective.

"I know in my own heart that the quality of sound today is exactly what I remember it from when I heard normally. When my wife yels at me to take out the garbage, it's the same voice that yelled at me before I lost my hearing."

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