Just recently, a man received the world’s first bone conduction implant system, called the Bonebridge. Brian Hogg, 29, from Edinburgh in Scotland received this implant along with a right ear reconstruction in December 2012, which was needed because of a genetic disorder that affects the proper growth of the head and neck, called Treacher Collins Syndrome. This means he cannot wear hearing aids that are designed to fit a normal ear, like behind-the-ear or in-ear designs. Also in that December, another man received the implant in Manchester.
This is an interesting piece of technology because it fits people with a different sort of hearing loss; conductive hearing loss, mixed hearing loss or single-sided deafness. Developed by MED-EL, this implant transmits sound to the inner ear by bypassing the outer and middle ear, since the inner ear mechanism is embedded in the bone of the skull. It is positioned above the ear lobe, with the magnetic microphone attachment of the implant positioned upward and the floating mass transducer positioned between the upper earlobe and the inner ear, under the skin and embedded into the outer surface of the skull. This makes the system non-invasive and requires only a shallow embedding, if needed. The device can be tailored to fit a person’s particular hearing loss profile. The partial implant is activated typically about two to four weeks after surgery.
This method is used in the cases where the outer ear is unformed or not formed correctly for hearing aid usage, or there are defects in the middle ear section, including the bones and the eardrum that conduct the sounds to the inner ear via vibrations. It is very easy to use, with only two components involved; the implant under the skin, and the audio processor that attaches magnetically, similarly to that of the cochlear implant system.
The implant contains the magnet with the signal transmission “ring” connected to the electronics unit which is even smaller than the ring itself. The transducer, the “speaker,” is connected on the opposite side of the electronics box. The whole assembly is very thin.
The Amadé BB audio processor component includes two microphones, the electronics to receive and process the sounds into electrical signals, and one battery per audio processor. It is really simple for patients to handle, and it can be upgraded as technology improves over the years. It’s a little bigger than a quarter, comes in four different colors to best match your hair color, has three different programs to fit your needs, including a directional microphone mode to help you hear conversations better in noisy conditions, and doesn’t have wires running down, so this can be worn unobtrusively under your hair. It also has things such as sound smoothing to help with loud or sudden noises, wind noise reduction, and speech/background noise management.
You can go to www.medel.com and click on “Find A Clinic” at the very top, and you will see a world map of all the clinics that are open.
Please share with us your experience with the Bonebridge if you have one. We’re very curious as to how well these work, especially if you have worn hearing aids previously.