One of the lesser known benefits of bilateral Cochlear Implantation (having 2ears) is if one of the implants fails you can still hear through the second ear. This article discusses just how important having resilience in such medical systems is.
The main benefits of bilateral Cochlear Implants revolve around better hearing. Being able to pick directionality, hear in noise and hear sound more loudly are benefits that are experienced by bilateral Cochlear Implant users every day. For most people these are more than enough benefit to justify getting the second implant.
However, Cochlear Implants are electronic devices. Like all electronics these devices do suffer from failures. A device is unlikely to last the 80 years which is NZ’s current life expectancy. In addition, a very small percentage of devices fail early on in their lives.
When a device fails the user will require a new implant. It normally takes a few weeks to confirm the failure and to line up the operation to remove the old implant and put the new one in. Then the user has to wait 3-4 weeks for the surgical incision to heal. Only then the device can be activated. There is likely to be a further 3-4 months of optimising the device so that the users hearing returns to an optimal level. For a unilateral Cochlear Implant user this means that they will be cast into silence for at least a month and are likely to have compromised hearing for 3-6 months.
For an adult user this is disruptive and irritating. They may have to take time off work. But at least they will understand what is happening and that there is a solution.
For a child user, still learning to hear, being cast into silence must be horrifying. And it certainly will be disruptive to their schooling and development. This is a nightmare scenario for parents of children with one Cochlear Implant.
In Ireland there is a group of parents advocating for bilateral Cochlear Implants. With a slightly ironic twist, two of their children (Billy and Anna – pictured above) have recently had implant failures. These two little kids have been cast into silence because of Ireland’s policy to only do unilateral implants. Here are some of the articles their plight has generated:
The plight of New Zealand’s Annas and Billys is quietly going un-noticed. There have been a small number of children in the two New Zealand Cochlear Implant programmes who have been cast into silence.
Children do not need to be cast into silence. Bilateral implantation for children is the clinically recommended approach. Generally it is recommended because of the benefits for day to day hearing and child development. However a huge benefit, if your child is unfortunate enough to have a device failure, is that it almost eliminates the possibility of a child being cast into silence. Both implants would have to fail simultaneously. This is extremely unlikely.
The cost of ensuring every new child identified as needing Cochlear Implants gets two will cost a maximum of $3.1m per year ($1.6m maximum in the first year). This is loose change compared the lost opportunities these children face by only having half the hearing system they were designed to have.