Cochlear Implants and Hearing Aids: Here’s What It Sounds Like…

Donald DuckWell, before you get too excited, no simulation could ever capture what it’s really like to hear with a cochlear implant. It’s much more complicated than that.

First, the brain has to adapt to the sounds. Hearing with a cochlear implant is like learning to hear all over again (or relearning to hear) unless you have no history of hearing. In that case, cochlear implants haven’t been as effective as compared to people who used to be able to hear or still can hear just at lower levels or frequencies.

Second, initially, all of the sounds you hear will seem very awkward at first. You’ll also have the inability to distinguish between who is talking – everybody will sound exactly the same. In my experience, my family and friends sounded like Donald Duck. The high-pitched voices were somewhat robotic or fake-sounding.

cochlear implant illustration
Cochlear Implant Illustrations by

Lastly, while the brain relearns many sounds rather quickly, particularly common sounds that are heard every day, some sounds may take months or years to master. For me, I think it took several months to a year for my brain to fully adapt and learn what it was hearing. It took even longer to be able to successfully hold a conversation on the phone.

Science Friday put out a great article that does its best to illustrate what wearing cochlear implants as well as hearing aids sounds like. There are several audio files along with these illustrations on how the ear works when using hearing devices. You can even do a little hearing experiment yourself to see how you fair when wearing simulated cochlear implants and hearing aids under different conditions. Compare the percentage of words you hear to the results of a similar hearing study conducted by researchers at Vanderbilt University.

hearing aid illustration
Hearing Aid Illustrations by

As tiny as the little microcomputers are that fit in or on the ear, it’s truly unfathomable (read: amazeballs!) how they can possibly work. The thin thread covered in electrodes that was surgically placed inside the cochlea of my ear acts like the nerve cells that became damaged and prevented me from hearing certain high frequencies. My cochlear implant has greatly improved the quality of my life although it hasn’t helped me to hear 100%. However, when I took a sentence recognition test just months after getting my cochlear implant activated and programmed, I correctly heard a large percentage of words!

(Photo Credit: Donald Duck by Kin Li on Unsplash)

About Post Author

Michelle Harris

Michelle (aka "Chelle") is owner/founder of Shel-Shok, LLC (marketing agency) and Green Matter, Limited (environmental education). She started losing her hearing back in the '90s for no known reason. In 2011, she had surgery for a cochlear implant, which has dramatically changed her life. Since then, her aim has been to educate others and eliminate stigmas associated with hearing loss.
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