When I was in high school, my father came home one day with a small black device. It had a small LED screen and he proudly explained it was a ‘pager’. Supposedly, the pager could receive text messages and this way, we could let him know if something had to be bought for home etc. when he was outside.
Along with him was a man who came to demonstrate how it worked. He explained that we had to call up the support centre and give them the message we wished to convey. They would then send it to the device through their network. Wow! It seemed magical that the device could receive messages from thin air and I could not wait to see how it worked! Before long, the man got up, dialed up the centre and gave a test message. As we waited with bated breath, all eyes fixed on the tiny device, it beeped and 2 words appeared on the screen in black ink – ‘BUY BREAD’. Pure magic!
And this pager, is the predecessor of today’s smart phone. Boy, how far we have come in terms of technology and possibilities! From finding an Indian restaurant when we are traveling to checking out what ‘Sauerkraut’ is as I pass by it in Costco to capturing precious moments on the go, I use my phone for a myriad of things! And these are just a few of the many amazing things that it can do. There are hundreds of apps for specific purposes and new ones are created every day making it more powerful and versatile! All this from a humble beginning…
The story is no different for a cochlear implant. It has evolved to its present form after undergoing several transformations physically and functionally over the last 3 decades, thanks to the perseverance and hard work of some highly dedicated people. Here is a walk through of its evolution based on the manufacturer “Cochlear”.
Below is a picture of the first cochlear implant recipient, Rod Saunders hearing with his implants. The square box on his lap is the processor and people had to speak through the microphone that was plugged into it for him to hear. Saunders was deafened following an accident at age 46 and hence made an ideal candidate as he could compare the post implant hearing to his hearing before the accident. Even the inventors of the implant were not certain how the digital information would be processed by the auditory nerves in the human brain, so it was a huge moment for them when Saunders responded to the sound played to him!
Quoting from Cochlear’s official website:
“After his sound processor was turned on, Rod excitedly jumped up and saluted, indicating that he could hear ‘God Save the Queen’ being played to him.”
On seeing his reaction, the inventor Dr. Graeme Clark went to the adjacent room and cried. His decade long efforts had finally paid off!
Saunders spent several hours in the clinic being evaluated with words and sentences in varying levels of intensity, pitch and modulation. Clinical data collected from his responses helped Dr. Clark and his team understand how the implant worked and make modifications accordingly.
Over the years, the sound processor improved in the ability to process signals and underwent several physical transformations making it easier for the wearer.
In 1982, the first Wearable Speech Processor was developed and by 1985, it was approved for profoundly deaf adults 18 years or older.
In 1990, the FDA approved Nucleus Cochlear Implant system for children age 2-17, thereby making it available for pediatric patients! This is possibly also due to the understanding that early intervention is crucial in the development of listening and speech skills.
In 1997, Cochlear introduced “SPrint”, a powerful body worn processor which was lighter and worked on an updated technology.
In 1998, Cochlear had a major break through. The device no longer had the body worn processor. It was miniaturized to be worn entirely behind the ear!
The present day external processor follows the same design, just that it has become more sleek.
The latest in the line (to the best of my knowledge) is “Rondo” from the manufacturer ‘MED-El’. This is a single unit sound processor with no behind the ear component. Only the physical changes have been outlined here, but the underlying technology and algorithms have also significantly advanced over the years.
The research continues and we are certain to witness more innovations in the future, thanks to the continued efforts of researchers worldwide!
We have chosen the ‘Naída CI Q90’ model from the manufacturer ‘Advanced Bionics’ and if everything goes well, Adith will be seen flaunting one this Friday!