Say ‘Goodbye’ to expensive ear surgeries and make way to this innovative, cutting-edge technology that will allow deaf people to ‘hear’ through their tongue!
Because Cochlear implants are expensive, invasive and not suitable for elderly patients, Scientists are working on a device which sends small electric shocks to the wearer’s tongue and allows them to ‘hear’ sounds.
It works when a patient presses their tongue against a sensor-packed mouthpiece, they feel a distinct pattern of electric impulses. They won’t actually be able to hear actual sound but the hope is with training the brain will learn to process the pulse patterns as words.
In contrast, Cochlear implants, take sound from outside the body, convert it into an electrical signal and transmit it directly to the auditory nerve. The new mouthpiece system works in a similar way, taking audio from an earpiece microphone and sending it to the mouthpiece via Bluetooth, but then transmitting the signal instead to the many sensitive nerves found in the tongue.
What we’re going towards is fitting all the electronics and all the components into something that is the size of a dental retainer, something that you could fit in your mouth. No one would notice it. It would be comfortable and wouldn’t get in the way,” Dr. Williams said.
We need more precise information such as how big to make the electrodes, how far apart to make them,” he said.
It will require practice for the user to interpret the signals sent to the tongue as sound, but Leslie Stone-Roy, assistant professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, believes it can be done with a couple of month’s practice.
We have a remarkable amount of plasticity in our brain even as adults. We now know that is able to make changes and adapt to changes in incoming information, especially stimuli that are of importance to the individual,” says Stone-Roy.
The current prototype is a large device, but researchers believe that it will eventually be built into a tiny unit which can be worn invisibly in the mouth.
Dr. Williams estimates it could be up to two years before the device is ready for public use. When it finally does become available, one of the first people in line to try out the new device might be Williams himself. He says he suffers from a type of hearing loss that could be helped with this type of product.