Local doctors test new hearing aid

June 30, 2008 6:06:51 PM PDT
A surgically implanted hearing aid that stays under your skin is being put to the test in the Bay Area. It could drastically change the way the hearing impaired lead their lives.

A new, invisible hearing aid being tested in the Bay Area could soon change thousands of lives.

David Steele is an avid swimmer and kayaker. But there's something he can never forget when he hits the water -- taking out his hearing aids.

"If my hearing aids get wet, that's it, they're dead and can't be fixed," said Steele.

He says just the threat from his own sweat forces him into a world of silence, during long runs with his fiance.

"Here I am, I am engaged to this wonderful woman and if we go swimming, kayaking or running, I want to talk to her," said Steele.

But now, a clinical trial going on at the California Ear Institute in East Palo Alto is attempting to break down that sound barrier for hearing impaired athletes.

Dr. Joseph Roberson is testing a new kind of hearing aid, which is surgically implanted.

"An incision would happen behind the ear, in the same curve as the ear. The microphone receives sound and it sends signal to central device where it's decoded, and released through a wire to vibration device that's attached to middle ear bones," said Dr. Robertson. "Once it's done, it's nicely seating something patient doesn't feel or see."

The device, made by a Colorado company called Otologics, isn't small. Dr. Roberson says it was designed to conform to the curve of the skull.

Once it's implanted, patients use a remote control to adjust it. A special device recharges the batteries right through the skin and ultimately though, they do have to be replaced by surgery.

"We look at it as a lifetime implant. The battery itself will have to be changed in the 10-year range, but the device is made to last the patient's lifetime," said Dr. Robertson.

Back at home in Campbell, David is waiting to become one of the first test patients. If the trials are successful the device could become available as early at the end of next year.

Typically, a set of hearing aids runs anywhere from $1,000 to $6,000.

According to Dr. Roberson, the implantable hearing aids are expected to cost anywhere from $12,000 to $15,000 a piece.


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