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Big Hopes: Expectations with New Cochlear Implant Users

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Throughout the cochlear implantation journey, setting realistic expectations is constantly emphasized. This can be accomplished by becoming informed about all aspects of the cochlear implant, including the benefits and the limitations, so the candidate can develop an understanding of what the device has the potential to accomplish for them.

Dr. Mark Syms compared setting expectations to a son playing baseball. “If my expectation of my son playing baseball is that he’s a good sport and he tries as hard as he does and he does as well as he can, that’s a reasonable expectation. If my expectation is that he is throwing the seventh game of the World Series to win the World Series that would be very high expectations, and I’m likely to be disappointed.” This analogy stresses the importance of having reasonable expectations, for it minimizes any residual disappointment that the candidate may experience after surgery.

This leaves the question: what exactly should the expectations for the cochlear implant be? Dr. Kelly Hernandez stated that the candidate “should expect that, once they have sort of plateaued into their performance, they are not going to have normal hearing.” This means that hearing with the cochlear implant will inevitably be different from natural hearing; however, the cochlear implant does provide the user with improved communication skills. She also mentioned that the candidate usually does quite well with listening in quiet environments, for those situations are best suited to the cochlear implant, and that the candidate’s hearing ability will develop with the progression of time.

Kevin Chruscinski and Del Ray Peterson, two successful cochlear implant users, both shared what their expectations were prior to the implantation and how those expectations compared with reality. 

Kevin Chruscinski revealed, “I knew I wanted to hear better, and [the cochlear implant] would be a chance for me to explore hearing better.” His hearing ability prior to the cochlear implant was minimal, and his ability to comprehend the speech of others impeded him from social situations. While making his decision, he realized, “It’s definitely going to be better than what I have now.” He then summarized how his expectations compared with reality, affirming, “Expectations? Oh, yeah. Those have been met. Those have definitely been met.”

Del Ray Peterson cited a similar situation, explaining, “I just knew that it would probably help my hearing or I would have never tried to do it.” When he initially received the implant, he was somewhat disappointed because he did not previously understand that the brain needed to be trained to understand the cochlear implant, meaning that his expectations had exceeded what the cochlear implant could actually do. Once he realized that listening practice was necessary with the device, he became much happier with the results. “I would definitely have it done again if I had to,” he confirms. 

Because both Kevin and Del Ray had realistic expectations of improved hearing and better communication, they were able to accomplish what they had initially set out to achieve with their cochlear implant. If a cochlear implant candidate does the necessary research to understand the benefits and limitations of the device and develops reasonable expectations based upon knowledge, they too will likely be successful with their cochlear implant.

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