It’s certainly an interesting question; however, the only person who truly knows the answer is the CI recipient themselves. After many years of working with cochlear implants, we’ve heard all sorts of descriptors for the sound quality, and one thing we can say for sure is that everyone’s perception is a little bit different. Despite this, there are some trends we see in clinical practice with respect to how our patients describe the sounds they hear through their CI.
Patients come to their activation day appointment both nervous and excited about turning their implant on for the first time. As their audiologists, we provide counseling on what to expect that day from the sound quality to how to manage their new device. The goal is to introduce electrical hearing at a comfortable level, so it’s quite common that the patient will not hear well with the implant at first. Some common descriptions right after the implant is turned on include: “cartoon like” voices, “robotic” voices, beeping sounds for voices, echoic sounds, buzzing and ringing sounds to name a few.
Generally speaking, the strange sound quality tends to go away as the patient uses their device and has it reprogrammed while they adapt to their new electronic hearing. Some recipients will describe a sudden “aha” moment when their brain adapts and the sound quality becomes like what they remember hearing before they developed hearing loss.
We thought it would be interesting to ask some of the recipients who attend our monthly CI support group meetings to share what they heard when their implant was first turned on compared to what it sounds like now. Many CI recipients lose their hearing early in childhood or they were born with a hearing loss, while others lost their hearing later in life. The age at the time of hearing loss as well as duration of hearing loss can impact how a cochlear implant sounds to the recipient as they rehabilitate their hearing. Here are a couple of examples that our support group attendees shared of their personal experiences with CI sound quality:
From a recipient with previously normal hearing as a child who has had the implant for 2.5 years: (At first) ”I heard a whole room full of sounds I had not heard before...very noisy to me as I heard nothing before. (Currently) It brings sound and conversation that I never had for years…what is frustrating to me is the sound is different than normal hearing but (still) good to me”
From a recipient with progressive hearing loss since early childhood who has had the implant for 1.5 years: (At first) “I was hearing a lot of sounds and everything was louder. I remember that music sounded amazing right away! (Currently) My CI sounds completely natural. I am able to hear within the normal hearing range. I love putting my processor on in the morning.”
Cochlear implant sound quality can differ between recipients; however, the majority of them agree that they hear much more with their CI than they did without and can report that the CI has improved their overall quality of life. Watch our blog for more CI sound quality posts!
*The Cochlear Implant support group is open to adult CI recipients and their families as well as those considering a CI. The group meets at our Lutheran campus office the second Tuesday of each month in the evening. For more information, contact Melissa Benton, Cochlear Implant Program Coordinator, at (260) 426-8117 ext 1866.