Long wait for cochlear im­plants

Auckland City Harbour News - - NEWS - By JESS LEE

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.

‘‘Fund­ing for

the

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.

Photo: ANNA LOREN

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.

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