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Connecting People to Sound Through Technology

Wednesday, January 8, 2014 9:32
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The origins of cochlear implants and the Baha® Bone Conduction System are rooted in human compassion and fearless scientific exploration

If you think you do not know someone with hearing loss, think again. Hearing loss affects more than 38 million Americans – that is a little more than one in 10 people in the United States.[1] Furthermore, hearing loss can impact anyone and is increasingly affecting the baby boomers as they age. In fact, one out of six baby boomers and one out of 14 “GenXers” already have hearing problems—and that number is rising.[2],[3]

The effects of hearing loss can be devastating. Those who are impacted may have to contend with the loss of simple but vital conveniences, such as being able to complete everyday tasks and holding conversations with loved ones, as well as living with more profound problems like diminished work performance, erosion of income and social isolation.[4] Any or all of these problems can result in anxiety, depression and a significant change to an individual’s quality of life.[5]

The good news is that people with hearing loss do not have to settle for silence. Whether hearing loss is moderate, profound, or anywhere in between, there are tested, proven and widely accessible treatments for hearing loss that can help. Baha® hearing devices and cochlear implants can enable individuals to reclaim their ability to hear sound and may allow them to reinstate their crucial connections to everyday events, colleagues, friends and loved ones.

It was one man’s personal experience and another’s innovation that resulted in the development of these groundbreaking, life-changing hearing treatments.

The Beginning
Dr. Graeme Clark grew up watching his father, who suffered from hearing loss, silently struggle to live a “normal” life. He witnessed first-hand the profound toll this struggle can take on an individual’s life. His experience fueled a determination to develop a method by which individuals with hearing loss could discover sound – sometimes for the very first time.[6]

Dr. Clark’s personal mission led him to pursue a medical degree, challenge the boundaries of science, confront criticism from the scientific community and, ultimately, after years of effort, master a profound and nuanced understanding of one of mankind’s most critical and complex physical systems: the human ear.

Vision Becomes Reality
Reading a paper describing how individuals struggling with hearing loss received hearing “sensation” through electrical stimulation compelled Dr. Clark to research those effects further which resulted in his developing the multi-channel cochlear implant more than 30 years ago. The cochlear implant is a device that has an external sound processor and internal implant, allowing it to bypass the damaged structures in the inner ear and directly stimulate the hearing nerve, which can improve hearing for people with hearing loss.[7]

During the initial device development, a lack of funding, the complex structure and challenge of fitting electrodes in the inner ear, and a host of unknown risks, dogged Dr. Clark’s research and fueled criticism of his work. However, inspired to help those with hearing loss, he was undeterred saying: “in spite of the problems and criticisms, I just had to go on to explore the possibilities to the very end. Someone had to do it, because a cochlear implant was their only hope of ever hearing.”[8]

Implementation
Serendipitously, while Dr. Clark was introducing sound to people with hearing loss, Dr. Anders Tjellstrom, a remarkable surgeon with an international reputation, was pioneering work with patients experiencing ailments of the head and neck. Dr. Tjellstrom, along with his colleague Professor Branemark, performed the first bone conduction implant surgery in Gothenberg, Sweden, in 1977. The patient, Mona Andersson, later recalled how excited she was after the first fitting, “because for the first time since childhood I could actually hear the birds singing.”[9]

That was just the beginning. The symbiotic efforts of Dr. Clark and Dr. Tjellstorm led to a technological breakthrough for those suffering with hearing loss. Not only had the first bone conduction system procedure been performed, but by 1978, the first multi-channel cochlear implant had been developed and implanted in the first ever cochlear implant recipient, Rod Saunders. Needless to say, Dr. Clark and his team were more than delighted when Rod confirmed its effectiveness by recognizing speech again.

In 1984, the first Cochlear Americas office, which now serves more than 56,000 recipients, was established in Denver, Colo. In 1985, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first multi-channel cochlear implant for consumer use; and today, the number of people helped by Cochlear topped more than 250,000 worldwide.[10]  

Going Forward
An intrepid spirit, coupled with exhaustive and exacting scientific research, enabled Drs. Clark and Tjellstrom, and countless others in the scientific community to discover and develop the science behind cochlear implants and Baha hearing devices.

Because of these treatments, people who are hindered by hearing loss have been able to bring sound to their silent worlds and reclaim both the significant and simple pleasures that comprise their quality of life. Find out more about how you or someone you know can break the silence.


[1] American Academy of Audiology. Retrieved from: http://www.audiology.org/resources/consumer/documents/FSHearingloss08.pdf. Accessed June 13, 2013.
[2] Better Hearing Institute. Retrieved from: http://www.betterhearing.org/hearing_loss/prevalence_of_hearing_loss/index.cfm. Accessed June 13, 2013.
[3] Kochkin, S. (2005). MarkeTrak VII: Hearing Loss Population Tops 31 Million People. Hearing Review. 12(7):16-29.
[4] HearUSA. Retrieved from: http://www.hearusa.net/consumer/hearinghealth/hearinglossfacts.asp. Accessed July 18, 2013.
[5] Better Hearing Institute. Retrieved from: http://www.betterhearing.org/hearing_loss/consequences_of_hearing_loss/index.cfm. Accessed June 13, 2013.
[6] Internal Cochlear data on file. June 2013.
[7] The Graeme Clark Oration. Retrieved from: http://www.graemeclarkoration.org.au/about-graeme-clark.php. Accessed June 13, 2013.
[8] The Graeme Clark Oration. Retrieved from: http://www.graemeclarkoration.org.au/about-graeme-clark.php. Accessed June 13, 2013.
[9] Internal Cochlear data on file. June 2013.
[10] Internal Cochlear data on file. June 2013.

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