The History of the Cochlear Implant
It has taken us four decades of research to be able to provide individuals with the cochlear implant. The solution was found in an unlikely source – electricity. The cochlear implant is a device implanted in the ear by surgery. The cochlea is stimulated with electrical signals, and those signals give the user the ability to hear. You can imagine the excitement of those who have never heard a voice since their childhood – or at all.
In the late 19th century, Alessandro Volta placed small, metal rods in his ear and applied a small amount of electricity to them. To his surprise, Alessandro discovered that it created an auditory sensation. He described the feeling as ‘a boom within the head’. Up until this point, solutions were largely based in auditory sources rather than electrical.
Alessandro could not find a workable solution to the problem of deafness, but in 1957, two scientists, Djourno and Eyries, stimulated the auditory nerve of a patient that was undergoing surgery. The person reported that they could perceive the stimuli. Other researchers could reproduce these effects, and in 1964, a scientist named Simmons placed an electric signal directly on the cochlea.
These discoveries propelled the cochlear implant, and the first one was invented in 1972. Most of the subjects were children, and many reported an improvement in hearing. These first implants started a wave of companies across the world developing partnerships and creating new, innovative ideas to help people with hearing damage recover.
The first cochlear implants that were invented were not sophisticated enough for the wearer to understand speech, and required individuals to use lip-reading and visual cues to understand what was being said. That all changed in the 1980s.
Connie, as she was known around the scientific community, was the first recipient of a cochlear implant that gave the wearer the ability to understand speech. Connie spent years undergoing surgeries for various cochlear implants and upgrades. Her first implant was in 1979, and she spent hours with the doctors aiding in their testing methods. In 1980, Connie underwent the surgery for the implant for the Hochmair implant, she could understand what was being said without the aid of lip-reading or visual cues.
Today, cochlear implant technology has a come a long way. The technology continues to develop well into the 2000s. We might even still be considered in the technology’s infancy, and there are many more amazing discoveries to come.