Let’s focus on giving people access to hearing, not brand wars

January 17th, 2012 by | Tags: | 12 Comments »

As a founder of CI Online, I receive many e-mails from cochlear implant candidates asking me “Which cochlear implant brand should I choose?”  It is the question that I always want to shy away from if I can.  For several years until I released the brand comparison chart, I responded to their e-mails by providing them a thesis written by a graduate student who happens to be an Advanced Bionics recipient, presenting a comparison of all three brands.  Then, when the thesis became out of date, and I was asked by numerous people to create a brand comparison chart that would be easy to read, I created the brand comparison chart along with several other people so that candidates could simply have an all-in-one place to see the facts.

Because I happen to be a Nucleus cochlear implant recipient, I don’t feel comfortable sharing opinions on the products of other brands specifically because I do not have the personal experience.  However, if people do ask me questions about Nucleus cochlear implants, I am more than happy to provide the information because I have personal experiences in utilizing the device and a relationship with the company.  When people ask me for opinions about other brands, I always direct them to other recipients of other brands.

So, why am I writing this post?  I have seen enough of brand wars on various forums that it has caused some of the most prominent advocates who have years worth of experiences in utilizing cochlear implants and listening and spoken language to step down and leave the forum because they don’t want to be bothered by brand wars.  As a result, the forums are left without important voices of people who can provide a wealth of useful information relating to hearing loss in general.

I also saw messages written by recipients of other brands stating that it’s too bad that I am not utilizing other brands and also messages telling other candidates that they’re crazy to chose xyz brand.  No one should ever feel uncomfortable about the choices they make.

While I give great credit to Cochlear for providing me access to hearing, I also give tremendous credit to my parents and therapists for teaching me to speak and hear well and also my audiologists for providing me the highest quality of mappings.  I score in the 90′s to 100 percent on HINT (Hearing in Noise Test) and love listening to music.  What one has to realize that there are so many variables for success to hearing well.  We can’t give the cochlear implant manufacturers the sole credit for success.  We also have to consider the effort we put into rehabilitation, the quality of therapists and audiologists, history of recipients’ hearing loss and also parental involvement.

I will also have to say that I am so grateful that there are four existing cochlear implant brands in the world today because competition is what pushes all manufacturers to continue to improve their devices and make them as superior as they can be.  When MED-EL created the baby set up for BTE sound processors, Cochlear followed suit.  It wasn’t long after MED-EL created a slim sound processor that Cochlear came out with a slim sound processor too.  A couple years after Cochlear created a water resistance sound processor with a rating of IP57, Advanced Bionics released a waterproof sound processor with a rating of IP68.  I am sure that MED-EL and Cochlear will eventually come out with sound processors that will be swimmable like Advanced Bionics’ Neptune™.

ALL manufacturers are researching around the clock to create the highest quality and most-up-to-date technology in order to continue to attract as many new candidates as they can and keep their current recipients for years to come.

The bottom line is that I am so disgusted by brand wars and people claiming this or that brand is the best of all and claiming this or that brand is horrible.  Why do we need them in the first place anyway when there is no clear indication of which brand provides the most superior quality of hearing?  If one manufacturer was clearly providing all recipients with horrible quality of hearing, that manufacturer would not be making a good business or would be out of business.

Let’s please put the brand wars aside and not spend so much time pushing one particular brand on other candidates.  Let’s just be people who happen to hear with cochlear implants and focus on creating awareness of cochlear implants in general and the fact that deaf children can learn to hear and speak today.

Did you know that only 7% of people who are qualified to get cochlear implants are hearing with them today?  We need to put effort into letting the general population know about the existence of the technology.

We need to campaign for the Indiana HB 1367 bill so that parents are presented with all communication options.

There are many health insurance providers that are still not covering cochlear implants or even bilateral cochlear implants.  We need to put effort into advocating for health insurance providers to cover cochlear implants and bilateral implantation.

We have a lot of work to do and spending time pushing candidates to go with a particular brand should not be on the list.

 Also, please take a moment to read a great blog entry by a parent of a child with bilateral cochlear implants and see a wonderful picture of three cochlear implant recipients, each of them with different brands.



January 17, 2012 at 9:21 pm

Rachel, thank you for what you have written. I just received an implant this last month and am already doing so well with it. My journey to getting an implant was significantly slowed down by brand wars. I felt like it was impossible to make a good choice. That no matter what brand I chose, I would fail. It took me a long time to realize that all brands are FANTASTIC and that I could not go wrong with whatever choice I made. I want to help get the news out there about the incredible, positive impact a CI can have on the lives of those with hearing loss.


January 18, 2012 at 12:49 am

An excellent post. I agree with you. Iam a Med-el cochlear implant recipient that will be activated tomorrow. My research shows that all three are comparable yet unique. Choosing really depends on a team of folks having input into the decision. Like you said it’s not just the implant but also many other people that factor into the equation of making an implant experience successful.


January 18, 2012 at 1:17 am

Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I do want to clarify a point, if I may but you indicated….

A couple years after Cochlear created a waterproof sound processor with a rating of IP57….

I don’t believe Cochlear’s processors are waterproof but rather, are water resistant. To me, waterproof means a full submersion in water whereas water resistant can be considered incidental contact with water.

Am I correct?


January 18, 2012 at 1:41 am

Waterproof means complete protection against any contact with water, be it by sprinklers or rain or having been submerged in water. Water resistant means some protection and cannot be submerged at all. Nucleus 5 is classified as waterproof because it has complete protection against sprinklers and rain and also can be fully submerged in still water for up to 30 minutes. Nucleus Freedom is classified as water resistant because it absolutely could not be submerged in water without being damaged.

January 18, 2012 at 4:44 am

Well said, Rachel! I think people get very defensive because choosing a brand is such a difficult personal decision, and when someone claims that one brand is superior to another, it makes it look as though the recipients of the other brands made the “wrong” choice. In reality, the brand of implant (at least in my opinion) makes very little difference in hearing outcome.

I am grateful that three companies all must compete with each other; I feel that it ensures the recipients of every brand has the best product possible. On that note, I heard through the grapevine that Cochlear is indeed following AB’s lead, though instead of creating an entirely new processor they will be selling waterproof covers to go over either the Nucleus 5 or next generation processor.


January 18, 2012 at 5:19 pm

Sam, I can tell you that the Nucleus 5 is waterproof – my daughter’s was accidentally submerged in water for 30 minutes and it was just fine…I wouldn’t recommend trying that at home, of course!


January 18, 2012 at 7:12 pm

Terrific post, Rachel! Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this controversial topic.

It’s a great gift to be able to hear and we’re so fortunate to have good choices of cochlear implants. We’re benefiting from competition between the major CI companies although I’m sure that puts alot of stress on the candidates. It’s such an intense personal decision, requiring diligent research on your own. You really can’t get too caught up in the marketing hype but some people either have a difficult time or are too lazy taking the time and effort to separate facts from hype.

The IP57 rating also provides the Harmony processor with the same limited water-proofing and Advanced Bionics even guarantees it with a 3-year warranty. Sam himself can attest to its waterproofness. :)

But I know Advanced Bionics doesn’t recommend swimming with them on. So i still have to take off my processors before dipping it. That’s why I so look foward to getting the Neptunes which is a true waterproof and dustproof processor.


January 28, 2012 at 6:03 am

I have had good results with my Advanced Bionics CI and have been approved for a second device. There are only two surgeons in my community who implant CIs and neither will work with AB for some unexplained reason. I do not want to drive 100 miles each way for surgery and mapping. I lost my hearing late in life and had the first CI implanted five years ago at 64. I have been able to continue my career as a radio announcer using a hearing aid in the unimplanted ear. With a good pair of headphones i do get some sense of binaural sound. I joke about being the second most famous deaf radio announcer (besides you know who). As for getting another brand implanted, it doesn’t seem practical to have two different chargers and having to deal with different controls. I’d be interested in knowing of anyone here who is using CIs from different makers.


January 28, 2012 at 6:13 pm

Hi Burt,

I know quite a few recipients who have two different brands of CIs, one on each ear. I will be happy to put you in touch with them. I will send you an e-mail later today with a few contacts.

juan gonzalez

January 29, 2012 at 2:06 pm

I greately agree with this article,thanks to Rachel for publishing the opinion of many that stay silent.
Being a bearer of Nucleous, all I can say is that isn’t waterproof,maybe water resistant. On summer I had my Nucleous completely stopped because of perspiration and the humidity.
Thanks again, but we need to push harder about this issue.

Nancy Ross

February 26, 2012 at 11:14 pm

I am interested in Burt’s question. Can two different CI’s work?
I have a Cochlear CI that is 8 years old. My other ear now needs one. I want to marry all the best possibilities. Please advise. Thanks

March 26, 2012 at 2:45 am

I am just so dang happy I can hear again! Your point that the different brands drive competition to improve their products is well taken.