Sunday, March 17, 2013

Here's to Hope: Vanderbilt University's Cochlear Implant Study

In a study led by Vanderbilt University, researchers are creating a patent-pending nonsurgical process for cochlear implants.   Check out the article from Vanderbilt University here.   Their hope is that this will greatly improve recipients' abilities to understand speech.

The research team aims to increase sound quality and also improve upon spectral resolution.  This is when the brain takes complex sounds and breaks them down into individual parts-- a process people with normal hearing have little problem doing.  A bionic ear, however, struggles with this, often causing speech clarity, especially in noisy settings, to be challenging and exhausting.

So far, participants in the study are calling the results "life-changing."  Even CI users who were happy with their electronic hearing before claim that their hearing after the study is even better.   

If you've been reading my blog, you know my top reason to get the CI was to understand speech as effortlessly as possible-- without looking, without lip-reading, in the dark, on the phone, in the car.  But it hasn't happened for me... not yet.

After almost a year, to be struggling with speech recognition is frustrating.  But this study, THIS WONDERFUL STUDY, is giving me hope.  And of course, I've emailed Vanderbilt... several times.  (VANDERBILT: If you're reading this... PICK ME!)  I would LOVE the opportunity to work with their research team.

If I can't though, I'm hopeful the results of this study will be a game changer for cochlear implant recipients.

My friend Jennifer, a Tennessee native and an amazing connection for me via the power of Facebook, is one of the study's lucky participants.  Jennifer was the first hearing impaired person I reached out to when I began exploring treatments for my hearing loss.  I stumbled upon her profile on a website that listed "hearing impairment mentors." In Jen's profile, she identified herself as a cochlear implant recipient, as well as a busy mother and an extreme social butterfly.  I sensed a match for me.

I wrote to her and she responded with one of the kindest, encouraging messages an in-the-closet hearing impaired person could receive.   Little did I know that Jennifer is truly a rock star in the cochlear implant world; she is very knowledgeable about treatments and assistive technology, she is an incredible advocate for people with hearing loss, and she is a shining spirit who gains followers wherever she goes.

Now she is providing an INCREDIBLE service by blogging about her experiences in the Vanderbilt study.  I'm sharing her blog, Journey to Sound, in case someone is out there who like me, wonders if speech clarity will ever come.

I hope this study, and Jen's experiences, bring as much hope to YOU as it has brought to me.   Miracles happen every day.  Let's keep hoping!


  1. It sounds like great things are on the horizon! I'd be interested to hear if you're able to get into the study and how much of a commitment it is. When I saw the article, we entertained the idea of emailing and asking to get the programming, but living in Texas it seemed a bit extreme. Of course, I am one of those annoying success stories you hear about, and I don't know that I could improve my hearing all that much. I know it's been more challenging for you, and I hope that you are able to benefit from this!

    I am also curious to know whether this strategy is available across all brands. From Jennifer's posts, it sounds like it, which makes it a rare opportunity for all CI recipients. Very exciting!

    1. Thanks for your comments. It is NOT annoying that you've have success with your surgery; I think it's wonderful you hear so well with your CI! What frustrates me is people's perceptions of the surgery. I think many think it will bring overnight success and I'm proof this isn't the case.

      The Vanderbilt study, however, gives me hope. I'm optimistic this research will increase my ability to hear speech clearly. Also, I hope CI programming becomes more individualized for recipients sooner in the recovery process.

      And YES! The study includes recipients using different brands. Very exciting indeed-- this could be a huge game changer!