The L.L. Schendel Speech and Hearing Clinic, operated by Florida State University’s School of Communication Science & Disorders (SCSD), recently expanded its services for the hearing impaired to include the programming of cochlear implants — a service that previously had not been available in North Florida.
While surgical candidates in North Florida must travel to Gainesville, Jacksonville or Atlanta to have the device implanted, patients can now visit SCSD’s clinic in downtown Tallahassee for follow-up care.
“There are a lot of people in North Florida who are candidates, but are not implanted for one reason or another,” said Selena Snowden, an associate in communication disorders and director of Audiology Services within the school at Florida State. “We believe some of the reason for lack of implantation in candidates was because there was no local support for follow-up care.”
The surgery is done on an outpatient basis and patients usually stay overnight at a hotel and are then checked by the physician the next day before they go home.Patients are given about month to allow time for healing before the device is turned on.
“Once everything is healed, you return to the facility for the initial programming and the device is turned on,” Snowden said. “The patient then has weekly follow-up visits for the next four to six weeks.”
At those weekly visits, the patient works with audiologists like Snowden to learn how to use the device. Snowden has received specialized training on the device from the Cochlear Corporation, a manufacturer of the device.
“It doesn’t sound like sound at first,” Snowden said. “Most people say it sounds like Darth Vader or Donald Duck. An elderly person who knows what sound should sound like has a memory of it and they tell us it doesn’t sound like normal sound. It can take a couple to six months for an adult to learn how to use it. For children, sometimes it takes years of therapy because they don’t have a speech and language memory to fall back on.”
SCSD’s first goal is to give people in North Florida who are implanted a local place to receive the actual programming, which will save countless hours of travel time for patients, especially during the first few months after surgery.
“Everyone who has come in here for therapy has been asking us to do it for years so they don’t have to travel,” Snowden said.
Then, SCSD looks to recruit a local physician who can perform the surgery.
“We believe that some people aren’t implanted because of lack of knowledge and lack of a local surgeon,” Snowden said. “Although we do not offer the surgery in North Florida currently, we, along with the manufacturer Cochlear Corporation, are trying to reach out to local surgeon.”
With this service up and running, Snowden is hoping to raise awareness about cochlear implants for those patients who do not or no longer benefit from hearing aids in order to improve their quality of life.
“There are a lot of adults locally who are candidates, but aren’t being implanted,” Snowden said. “We’re hoping with this program we can also reach out to the physicians and teach them what the criteria is for an implant and why we are under-referring people. There are so many people out there whose quality of life is suffering because they can’t hear.”
According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), a cochlear implant is a small, complex electronic device that can help to provide a sense of sound to a person who is profoundly deaf or severely hard-of-hearing. One part of the implant is surgically placed under the skin, while a second part sits externally behind the ear. The device allows sound to bypass damaged portions of the ear and directly stimulate the auditory nerve.
Cochlear implants are different than hearing aids, which amplify sounds, and are used only after a patient’s hearing is no longer helped by those devices. Implant candidates must be at least one year of age and meet certain criteria set by the Food & Drug Administration to undergo the procedure.