September 22, 2016
EDMONTON — The Cochlear Implant Service at Edmonton’s Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital is celebrating 30 years of giving Albertans the ability to hear. One patient received a cochlear implant in the program’s inaugural year. Gradually, the number of patients receiving implants grew: 100 in the first 15 years; another 435 in the next 15 years.
“Alberta Health Services is focused on improving the quality of life, and restoring the ability to hear is one way we can make a positive, lifelong difference in a person’s life,” says Dr. Verna Yiu, CEO and President of Alberta Health Services. “Over the past three decades, the Glenrose service has turned silence into sound for more than 600 people from the Edmonton area and across northern Alberta. Everyone involved in this program should be proud of their accomplishments and take time to celebrate this milestone anniversary.”
Unlike hearing aids, cochlear implants do not amplify sound. Instead, they convert sound waves to electrical impulses and transmit them directly along the hearing nerve. Implants are comprised of two parts: a device that a surgeon implants in the inner ear, and external equipment worn on and above the ear.
In Alberta, cochlear devices are used on individuals who are severely deaf; that is, they can only hear sounds that are 70 decibels (a vacuum cleaner) or more, and typically require lip-reading to communicate.
Originally, only adults were eligible to receive implants. The first pediatric patient, a seven year old, received an implant in 1990.
“We’re now doing implants with children as young as 12 months,” says Audiology Services manager Brian Schmidt. “Many of these children develop age-appropriate speech and language, and can enter their community school with their normal-hearing peers.”
For Corinne Hewko, receiving a cochlear implant in 1989 gave her back her hearing. The 44-year-old St. Albert woman had used hearing aids from the time she was four years old, then completely lost her hearing at age 17.
“Not a day goes by that I’m not grateful for the technology,” says Hewko. “I can go out and function – I don’t want to go even a day without hearing. You always wonder what you’re missing.”
Implant technology has improved from the first large and cumbersome units that included equipment the size of a small transistor radio to today’s more inconspicuous ear-level devices. Hewko’s first device had a cord running from her ear, down her back, to a box concealed beneath her clothing.
“Twenty-seven years ago, I was worried with my device that it would get in the way of fashion – I had to find ways to hide the box,” says Hewko.
“Every time I receive an upgrade, it’s a little bit smaller and lighter. My newest one is great – I barely know it’s there and I don’t have a sore ear when I take it off.”
Noise reduction features have been added in the latest technology to filter out background sounds in order to help patients hear speech with more clarity.
Cochlear implant users are able to take advantage of Bluetooth technology, and devices are more waterproof allowing for improved enjoyment of water sports.
The Glenrose Cochlear Implant Team is comprised of audiologists, surgeons, speech-language pathologists, psychologists, a social worker and support personnel.
“We have a strong, passionate team at the Glenrose,” says Schmidt. “The patients’ progress and the program advances are a testament to their commitment.”
Cochlear implants are also performed in Calgary at the Alberta Children’s Hospital and Richmond Road Diagnostic and Treatment Centre.
Alberta Health Services is the provincial health authority responsible for planning and delivering health supports and services for more than four million adults and children living in Alberta. Its mission is to provide a patient-focused, quality health system that is accessible and sustainable for all Albertans.
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