My Cochlear Implant Journey: Choosing the Brand

I started the process of choosing a brand and model of cochlear implant, and I got a bit of a shock — the patient does most of the research on their own. I’ve been trained in implants, how they work, and what’s available on the market, but not about how patients are counseled to decide on their brand and model. It turns out it’s significantly different from hearing aids.

In my many years of using and dispensing hearing aids professionally, I’ve found it is rare that a patient will do the research on what they need. I’ve come across a few that are well versed in hearing loss, but by and large, they do not know enough to make the decision on their own. Why? The great complexity of the task. They’re faced with understanding and factoring in so many aspects, from the types and degrees of hearing loss to the types and levels of device technologies.

Implant patients are different. For one, they’re embarking on a lifelong commitment to something physically implanted in the ear. There’s no return period or exchange option for the implanted electrode array. Secondly, they’re choosing from three brands, and each brand only has one or two current models. The hearing aid patient, on the other hand, is faced with hundreds of hearing aid models and possibly thousands of setup configurations. Lastly, the implant patient is starting a journey that is unique to them — no one else knows what they can and will hear or how they will do.

Here I find myself in the shoes of the patient, and I haven’t been here in a while. It’s a bit unnerving to suddenly be tasked with choosing an implant. I imagine most people must feel a sense of loneliness at first, not knowing anyone else with implants. I am fortunate that I know many people with implants, so I didn’t feel alone in this journey. I think social media is ideal for fostering these kinds of connections. I was able to join Facebook pages intended for implantees and quickly absorb information about real-life experiences. I reached out to a network of audiology friends for support, and that was a tremendous help to me early in the process of choosing a brand. Some of my patients and close friends who have received implants shared their stories with me, and this was invaluable.

I contacted all three companies: Med-El, Cochlear Americas, and Advanced Bionics (AB). My audiologist provided me with information on each so I could start my research. I was fairly certain I wanted to get AB, but I needed some time to make up my mind. I spent roughly a month researching before I finalized my order.

Each company has its strengths. I admire that each company takes pride in their product, goes above and beyond to get information into the hands of the consumer, and even made face-to-face appointments to sit down with me.

I was excited to learn that Med-El was the first implant company, and that it has developed some unique features not found in the other brands, such as an MRI-safe magnet. I didn’t, however, like Med-El’s case design. I want onboard controls, which they don’t offer; I’m not very good at carrying remote controls. I decided early in the process that I didn’t want Med-El.

I focused my energy on comparing AB and Cochlear. Cochlear has attracted a great deal of attention with the direct-to-iPhone connectivity. This is certainly a great step in meeting a consumer need. I noted that the Cochlear product appeared a bit smaller and lighter in weight than AB, and it had a really nice Aqua-case for waterproofing. Cochlear also has a strong reputation for backwards compatibility, allowing newer technologies to work with older implant arrays. This certainly was a big plus. For me, however, the Cochlear product didn’t quite fit the bill. Although it had many attractive features, I was still more interested in AB.

AB’s strength is in options. I LOVE options. It has the onboard controls, many microphone configurations (including a really cool mic called a T-mic), and a large line of accessories. My favorite feature is that it pairs up with a hearing aid called Phonak Link. Since my right ear is not a candidate for the implant and looks to be holding strong for now, I wanted a hearing aid that would sync up with my implant. I liked the idea that the two would work in tandem.

It was difficult narrowing down to one company, but once I did, I could start to get excited about the features and accessories. I had a pretty fun time looking at all the battery accessories, waterproofing accessories, color options, microphone options, and more. Filling out my order form was a work in progress for several weeks, and I kept discovering options I needed to research more.

More milestones to come! Stay tuned here and on Facebook for future updates on Dr. Yoder’s cochlear implant journey, including recovery, activation, and rehabilitation.

Part 5: Preparedness and Hope

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