What it’s like to relearn to hear through cochlear implants

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    Kansas City resident Rob Jefferson describes relearning to hear through a cochlear implant as a challenging but ultimately rewarding experience. (Alex Smith/for WHYY)

    Kansas City resident Rob Jefferson describes relearning to hear through a cochlear implant as a challenging but ultimately rewarding experience. (Alex Smith/for WHYY)

    Rob Jefferson started losing his hearing when he was in his late teens.

    Sensorineural hearing loss, a progressive degenerative condition, runs in his family. His hearing gradually declined over a few decades, and though he was able to use conventional hearing aids for a few years, Jefferson, who’s now 56, had lost all his natural hearing ability by his late 40s. 

    After getting cochlear implant surgery a couple of years ago, he discovered that restored hearing doesn’t come with the flip of a switch. Voices and household noises sounded like robots and digital chirps to Jefferson, rather than the natural sounds he remembered from his youth.

    Like many people with cochlear implants, Jefferson worked to assimilate the sounds, and practiced listening to them so his hearing would become more subtle and natural. Even now — years after surgery — this work continues, and though it’s been, at times, bizarre and challenging, Jefferson describes his return to the world of sound as a rewarding, life-changing experience. 

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