Listen Up: FDA Approves Bionic Ears For The Elderly

Today the FDA gave approval to the first implantable hearing device for adults with the most common type of hearing loss that occurs with aging, heredity, certain drugs that are toxic to the inner ear, exposure to loud noises like heavy metal concerts, or listening to your ipod on high volume.

Nucleus Hybrid L24 Cochlear ImplantNucleus Hybrid L24 Cochlear Implant

The hearing loss is called profound sensorineural hearing loss of high-frequency sounds in both ears, and applies to people who can still hear low frequency sound with or without a hearing aid. 

The implant is called the Nucleus Hybrid L24 Cochlear Implant System (a lovely name I think we would all agree) and is addressing the growing aging population who suffer from this highly frustrating hearing loss who have to struggle to listen effectively, interact and remain independent. 

Audible sound frequencies with the Nucleus Hybrid L24 Cochlear ImplantAudible sound frequencies with the Nucleus Hybrid L24 Cochlear Implant

Cochlear implants are often called bionic ears. They are surgically implanted into a person's cochlea to stimulate it to cause hearing. Unlike hearing aids that just amplify sound, they compensate for damaged or non-working parts of the ear.

It's not clear to me what is different about the Nucleus Hybrid L24 Cochlear Implant System, but it contains an external microphone and speech processor that picks up sounds from the environment and converts them into electrical impulses. These impulses are then transmitted to the cochlea through a bundle of implanted electrodes.

Standard versus Hybrid Cochlear Implant DesignStandard versus Hybrid Cochlear Implant Design

Cochlear Implants have been around since the 1960's, with 324,000 implants as of December 2012, but just getting a Cochlear Implant isn't an option in this case as it destroys any low frequency hearing, and even though one of the risks with this Hybrid implant is low frequency hearing loss, the FDA decided the benefits outweigh the risks.

If you have difficulty hearing faint sounds, understanding people with high-pitched voices, hearing certain speech sounds especially over the phone, or high pitched emergency vehicles, then perhaps you are suffering from this type of hearing loss. 

As for me, now I can pump up the volume on my earphones and rest easy that there will be a solution for my aging ears.

It's made by Cochlear Ltd, and you can download the results of the clinical trial, here

Source: FDA press release

Mar 21, 2014
by Anonymous

I know writers need to have

I know writers need to have a catchy way to wrap up the end of their story but your statement that "now I can pump up the volume on my earphones and rest easy that there will be a solution for my aging ears" is ridiculous. It gives me the impression that you are making light of this very serious topic. I'm sure anyone with a cochlear implant would tell you that a cochlear implant does not replace normal, natural hearing. I think the moral of the story here is to do the best job you can to protect the hearing you have so you don't have to have a surgical procedure to try to artificially and electronically fix it later. Suggesting that this new device will be a perfect solution for hearing loss, and therefore there's no need to protect our ears now, in my opinion, is careless.

Mar 24, 2014
by Ellen Dudley
Ellen Dudley's picture

Thanks for your feedback, I

Thanks for your feedback, I agree it was a careless statement. I was trying to show my relief because hearing loss can happen regardless of my behaviour - from side effects of drugs, or hereditary conditions, so I am happy there are people working on this problem.