black and white picture of a man with a cochlear implant

Supporting Adult Cochlear Implant Users through Speech Therapy

What is a Cochlear Implant?

A cochlear implant is a device that is used to help individuals with hearing loss effectively perceive sound. In most cases, cochlear implants are used to aid adults with moderate to severe hearing loss. It is common for the term “cochlear implant” to be abbreviated as “CI”. Cochlear implants require surgery as part of the device is implanted inside the inner ear, and the other part of the device is placed on the outside of the head. These two parts work together to help the individual be aware of sound; however, cochlear implants do not produce “normal” hearing. Cochlear implants are able to be placed in one or both ears.

How Do Cochlear Implants Work?

Some forms of hearing loss involve damage to the hair cells in the inner ear. Because of this damage, these hair cells are unable to send sound to the auditory nerve. The implant enables sound to bypass the hair cells and send sound directly to the auditory nerve.

The part of the cochlear implant that is worn on the outside of the head (referred to as a “transmitter”) contains a microphone that picks up sound. The sound is then sent to the part of the device called the speech processor. This looks more like a traditional hearing aid and is typically worn behind the ear or attached to clothing. The speech processor converts the sound into a digital signal, which travels to the transmitter and then to the receiver which is placed under the skin. Finally, the receiver sends the sound signal to the implanted section, which consists of electrodes in the inner ear or cochlea. These electrodes then trigger the auditory nerve and cue the brain to notice incoming sounds.

Hearing loss can cause difficulties relating to speech, language, and communication. Following cochlear implant surgery, speech therapy is an important part of adapting to the implants and working to improve speech abilities. If you or a loved one would benefit from working with a speech therapist, get started today by scheduling your free introductory call!

What is the Role of the SLP in a Cochlear Implant Case?

Speech and language pathologists typically work with cochlear implant patients as part of a larger team of healthcare and supportive professionals. The cochlear implant surgery, post-operative recovery, and therapy process for individuals with CI involve working with some or all of the following:

  • Nurses, Doctors, and Surgeons
  • Social Workers and Psychologists
  • Neurologists and Geneticists
  • Occupational Therapists
  • Speech and Language Pathologists

SLPs who work with individuals with CI must be familiar with the expertise and scopes of these other roles. They also must effectively communicate and coordinate their treatment plans with other professionals working with the same individual. These plans are often developed in consultation with all members of the supportive team as well as the individual and their family and caregivers.

The SLP’s role will often vary at different stages of the process. Before the surgery, the speech therapist is often involved in the assessment of the individual’s communication abilities and challenges to help determine whether they are a suitable candidate for CI surgery. In the period immediately after the surgery, other medical professionals are usually more involved in treatment and recovery. In most cases of individuals with CI, speech therapists have the longest duration of involvement.

If you want to get started with one of our amazing speech therapists, simply schedule your free introductory call today!

Speech Therapy for Hearing Implants

Speech therapy treatment plans for individuals with CI typically do not vary significantly from those created for other individuals with hearing impairments. CI recipients generally have more options and a better long-term prognosis. This is because speech and language pathologists do not have to work around the hearing impairment itself once hearing has been restored through CI surgery and can, therefore, focus on improving speaking and language skills directly.

This process is referred to as aural habilitation or rehabilitation and involves helping the individual attain (or re-train) listening, speech, and language skills. Some of the most common techniques used in aural rehabilitation include:

  • Voice Therapy
  • Speech Reading
  • Active Listening Exercises
  • Music training

The primary goal of aural rehabilitation with a speech therapist is to fully restore speech and language skills to accompany their restored hearing ability. The initial assessment with the speech and language pathologist will include an evaluation of the following skills:

  • How well they produce speech sounds
  • How well they understand speech
  • Their memory
  • Their reading and writing skills
  • Their listening skills
  • How well they can understand others without lip-reading

This evaluation appointment with a speech-language pathologist (SLP) is essential to learn what aural rehabilitation therapy can offer and where efforts should be focused.

In aural rehabilitation sessions, the speech therapist will help the individual learn how to listen, process, and comprehend the new sounds that come from the cochlear implant(s). Aural Rehab helps to improve communication skills when conversing with others. By working to improve these skills, individuals feel more secure with their implant and newfound hearing ability.

Cochlear implant speech therapy involves exercises that help the individual with:

  • Understanding the difference between individual sounds and complete words
  • Understanding and processing new sounds that they have not heard before
  • Following along while being read aloud to
  • Noticing when they (or someone they are talking to) do not understand what is being said
  • Learning when to change their environment in order to improve their ability to understand
  • Learning how to set up their phone to work with their implant
  • Enjoying music
  • Learning how their implant affects those around them
  • Helping their family and friends learn about their implant
  • Improving the clarity of their speech
  • Learning and practicing skills that will make them more comfortable and confident when speaking

Great Speech boasts a large network of speech-language pathologists who offer aural rehabilitation services to individuals with cochlear implants. The process begins with a free introductory call. Don’t wait to get started; schedule your free call today!