Tips for learning to hear with your cochlear implant

Advice for the first year of hearing with your cochlear implant

Debbie and Jeff have found ‘life more carefree and… spontaneous’ since they each received a cochlear implant. The couple had accommodated each other’s hearing loss for most of their 31-year marriage, but now everyday situations are ‘markedly better’ with their CochlearTM Kanso® Sound Processors and a hearing aid, compared to two hearing aids.

Debbie and Jeff agree that their enjoyment of social events is no longer hampered by where they are seated or efforts to hear conversation. It’s more relaxing to kayak and safer to ride their bikes. Hearing important details in group and educational settings is less stressful.

When Jeff started as a volunteer visiting palliative care patients, he often had to ‘strain with all [his] might to hear what they were saying.’ With his Kanso Sound Processor, Jeff can hear their soft voices ‘so much better now… it makes these interactions even more special!’ Debbie can take the executive minutes of her wine group meetings – something she could not hear well enough to do in the past.

But, for Debbie, the first to receive her cochlear implant, learning to distinguish sounds and voices was a hard road. Seeing what Debbie went through in those first two years didn’t dissuade Jeff from getting his surgery, but it did lower his expectations.

‘Neither of us perceived very much that first day,’ says Debbie of their activation experience. ‘I heard my audiologist’s voice as “boing, boing, boing” while Jeff described my voice as that of an opera singer and noises like bagpipes in the distance.’ 

Getting to their current level of hearing has come from a determination to ‘do whatever it takes to succeed’ and with the support of family and friends. In the months following activation, Debbie and Jeff took every opportunity to practise their listening skills and found the following strategies helpful in overcoming the early challenges.

Be committed to your auditory rehabilitation

‘I really attacked my auditory training with a vengeance,’ says Debbie. ‘I spent about four hours a day on structured and unstructured exercises in the first year, while Jeff did similar activities and spent about 2.5 hours a day on training his first year.’

Incorporate your auditory training into everyday activities

While taking their dog for a walk, Jeff would name cities around the world for Debbie to practise hearing and repeating. ‘We made it progressively harder by walking along busier streets and using many different categories of words,’ says Jeff, who would gradually get further away from Debbie each time.

Ask friends and family to read to you, while you follow the words in the book

This can be a good way to re-learn the rhythm and pattern of sentences as well as the sound of individual words.

‘Don’t forget to sometimes choose people with accents and not the clearest of voices,’ says Debbie, whose friend read the Harry Potter books with her over the phone.

Listen to podcasts and audio books

Listening to podcasts and audio books allows you to choose the volume and speed as well as different accents as you practise with your new device. Debbie began with the clear-speaking hosts of news interviews and now listens to a variety of general interest podcasts most days. Starting six months after activation, Jeff prefers listening to Ted Talks with closed captioning.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

‘First off, disclose that you have hearing loss and state that you’d be appreciative if they could speak a little slower and louder than normal,’ says Jeff. ‘If you can’t understand someone, ask if they could kindly re-phrase.’ 

Have visual resources on hand as a back-up option

Even for those who have had their cochlear implants a long time, some noisy places still pose a challenge for hearing conversation. In the first few weeks while you’re still adjusting to your device, Debbie suggests having on hand a pen and pad or an electronic version such as the ‘notes’ function on your phone. Additionally, there are ‘speech to text’ apps available on the Apple® App Store and Google Play, or you can also use a True WirelessTM Mini Microphone 2/2+ to stream audio to your sound processor in group meetings and restaurants where people are difficult to understand or are speaking from a distance.

Now planning for their second surgeries, Debbie and Jeff say they will use the same strategies in learning to hear with both ears.

‘However, this time we’ll both be going through our auditory rehabilitation at the same time,’ says Debbie. ‘So likely we’ll be pushing, cheerleading and just generally supporting one another in any way we can.’

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Disclaimer

Please seek advice from your health professional about treatments for hearing loss. Outcomes may vary, and your health professional will advise you about the factors which could affect your outcome. Always read the instructions for use. Not all products are available in all countries. Please contact your local Cochlear representative for product information.

Views expressed are those of the individual. Consult your health professional to determine if you are a candidate for Cochlear technology.