For people who are born deaf, there are few procedures that are used to help them hear. The most common procedure uses a cochlear implant, which sends signals to the nerves in our ears and brain that allow us to hear. But not everyone finds success with cochlear implants, due to the fact that some people do not have a thick enough connection between their cochlea and the brainstem. For a long time, speech therapy and hearing therapy was limited to cochlear implants and sign language--until now.
Called the auditory brainstem implant, this new device creates a bridge between the cochlea to the brainstem where a traditional implant could not.
There are three components to the new device:
- First is the microphone that picks up sounds from the environment and is connected to a magnet.
- The magnet then transmits the sounds into a receiver.
- The receiver feeds the signals to a microchip in the brainstem, which improves the ability for the brain to read and distinguish sound.
This experimental procedure has only been successfully used in less than 200 cases for children, and it's rare to find a doctor that will conduct the procedure (there are currently 4 institutions in the U.S. willing to provide the surgery). However, it's paid off for many who have tried the experimental treatment: take, for example, Jiya Bavishi. Born deaf, Jiya has tried cochlear implants with no success. But the auditory brainstem implant has helped her move from using just sign language to also understanding and mimicking sounds with her family and speech therapist. Though scientists don't understand how clear the sounds are and are hesitant to set high expectations for the device, the auditory brainstem impact demonstrates how much work still needs to be done to improve the field of auditory-speech accessibility.
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