When talking about the benefits of a cochlear implant, Carolyn Simpson is clear – “I wish I had done this ten years ago. It’s the best thing I ever did in my life.”
Carolyn had been wearing hearing aids for forty-seven years when she made the decision to get a cochlear implant. While she says she was aware that an implantable device would change some things in her life, she simply wasn’t prepared for just how much.
First diagnosed with a hearing loss at age four, Carolyn was quickly fitted with hearing aids, a device she would continue to wear until 2018. “It was getting frustrating having to adjust to new hearing aids every five years. Initially, I used to get a “wow factor” when I got a new pair, but in recent years, I hadn’t been finding the replacements loud enough.
“The last time I received new ones, we went through about three brands to find one I liked. It was frustrating, and my audiologist mentioned that maybe it was time to think about a cochlear implant. I hadn’t realised I was a suitable candidate.”
When Carolyn’s surgeon told her that he thought she would benefit greatly from an implant, it cemented her decision to go ahead.
While she says it wasn’t easy, it was certainly worth it. One unexpected benefit for Carolyn, was new friends. Carolyn made a connection with two other women who received a cochlear implant at the same time. “I am still in touch with them – we catch up every few months and are a great support to each other.”
Following surgery in late 2018, Carolyn has attended regular mapping appointments with her RIDBC Audiologist and has been going to regular therapy sessions with an RIDBC Speech and Language Pathologist to develop her listening skills using her cochlear implant.
Sharon Hurt, Carolyn’s Speech and Language Pathologist, says it can take adult recipients time to adjust to the cochlear implant “With Carolyn, we had to develop her listening skills, she had worn a hearing aid for so long and with less benefit over time, we essentially needed to retrain her brain to interpret this new electrical signal as speech.
Carolyn agrees. “It was challenging and like any surgery, I had to recover from it. I learned to listen using audio books, movies and music all the time. It was hard work, but fourteen months on, I can hear and it’s amazing.”
Carolyn remembers the first time she heard her car indicator – an everyday sound for most, but for Carolyn it was exciting. “My family and I still laugh about my reaction and I can still feel the excitement.
I am amazed that everything has a sound! Just hearing the sounds of the house, like my cat’s bell, it’s truly amazing.”
The sounds of the house are important as it symbolises the supportive journey of Carolyn and her family – husband David, and children Ashleigh and Matthew. Each member of the family helps Carolyn to learn sounds, providing encouragement where necessary.
For Carolyn, one of the biggest changes has been learning to use the telephone, something many of us take for granted. “Carolyn hadn’t used a phone to receive or make calls in fifteen years,” says Sharon. “We did intensive phone training to build her confidence.
“Carolyn was fantastic, her self-motivation and determination were admirable. I will always remember the moment she used a phone for the first time. She was understandably anxious, but she did so well, and she quickly realised how this could change her life.”
Carolyn’s parents live a few hours’ drive away, so it’s not always easy to visit. Now, Carolyn can have regular phone contact with her mum, one of the things she loves most about her implant.
“Talking to my mum on the phone has been wonderful,” she says. “I hadn’t talked to my mum on the phone for fifteen years – she was so excited about it. I’ve started to talk [on the phone] to my two sisters too, whom I hadn’t spoken to on the phone for over two decades.
“I’ve also spoken to my children on the phone which I never thought I would do!” Carolyn says. “Although I am not sure they think anything of it, being teenagers!” she laughs.
Carolyn says she would recommend other adults with hearing loss look at whether a cochlear implant might be right for them. “Do your research. Get in touch with other people who have had implants as they can be a great support at every step of the journey,” she advises.