A cochlear implant helps people who have severe hearing loss recover some of their ability to hear. The device contains two pieces – an internal implant and external receiver – and works by stimulating the section of the brain responsible for hearing, giving the wearer a portion of their hearing back.
After research discovered that electrode stimulation could be interpreted as sound by the human brain, the University of Vienna and University of Melbourne developed the first cochlear implant device. Professor Kurt Burien at the University of Vienna conducted the world’s first cochlear implant procedure in 1977, with the second at the University of Melbourne in 1978.
A cochlear implant differs from a hearing aid in how the two function. A hearing aid is an amplification device that amplifies sound in the case of moderate hearing loss. In effect, it turns the volume up in your ear. A cochlear implant, on the other hand, is a surgically implanted device that operates based on electrical stimulation. It does not change the volume of a sound input, it stimulates the hearing centers of your brain, mimicking the natural process that occurs for people with full hearing.
Improvements continued throughout the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s. Now, major brands like Cochlear, Advanced Bionics, and Oticon Medical produce cochlear implant devices with near global availability.
Despite advances in technology, however, not all deaf people like cochlear implants. Some view it as a symbol of a hearing-centric world forcing deaf people to conform. Others do not like the surgical procedure required to get the device implanted. However, it’s still a popular choice, with over 700,000 deaf people globally using a cochlear implant to improve their hearing.