Long wait for cochlear implants
People with hearing loss are suffering years in silence on waiting lists for cochlear implants.
Thirty-six people have been waiting more than two years for the surgically implanted device.
The wait is leaving some people with mental and physical effects from the strain, the University of Auckland’s head of audiology Dr David Welch says.
Cochlear implants provide a sense of sound to those who are severely hard of hearing or profoundly deaf.
Lorna Murray, 50, qualified for an implant 2 years ago following decades of deteriorating hearing.
The Remuera resident still on the waiting list.
She says she has finally run out of patience after years of trying to remain positive.
‘‘I am now so emotionally impacted by my hearing loss that it has become clinically significant,’’ she says.
‘‘I struggle to understand why if I was physically disabled by a degenerative problem I would wait a maximum of three months for a joint replacement, yet a severe sensory disability means waiting years for a solution that would help me regain function, safety and connection.’’
There are 163 people in New Zealand on the waiting list for an implant.
Demand for the service is
is high, Ministry of Health Disability Support Services group manager Toni Atkinson says.
The current funding structure allows for 40 adults, 30 children and up to 16 new- born babies to receive an implant per year.
Atkinson says more than $8 million is allocated for implants and associated support each year.
pro- gramme has almost doubled over the last five years.
‘‘Waiting times depend on an assessment of a person’s ability to benefit, relative to others on the list.
‘‘If a person considers their needs have changed since their assessment they can ask for a review of their needs.’’
But Welch says funding is needed.
‘‘It is a terrible thing that these people are suffering. The effect of hearing is such a fundamental part of our society, it’s like the glue that keeps everything together.
‘‘The effect is also wider than just the individual – it affects their families and
more everyone around them as well.’’
Research shows some people waiting for an implant are becoming physically ill as well as suffering mentally, Welch says.
‘‘We’ve found not having a cochlear implant when you need one doesn’t just hurt you in terms of conversing with other people it also starts to have an impact on your health and the rest of your life.’’
Murray has been struggling with tinnitus since she was 16 and hearing deterioration in both ears since her early 20s. The mother-of-two says she is tired of fighting to hear again.
‘‘My family is also running out of patience and tolerance. They are fed up that they have lost intimacy and communication with their wife or mother.
‘‘I often have to settle for being excluded from conversations and events because I can’t hear. I’m there but I can’t participate.’’
She has been told that with an implant her tinnitus should significantly decrease and she will regain hearing to the level that it was 20 years ago.
The organisers of the inaugural Adult Cochlear Implant Forum on March 21 hope to present a report to the government in an effort to improve funding.
Lengthy wait: Thirty-six people have been waiting more than two years for a cochlear implant to help them regain hearing.
Still waiting: Lorna Murray qualified for a cochlear implant 2 years ago and is still on the waiting list.