New program makes 'life-changing' cochlear implants more accessible to Manitoba adults

Adults in Manitoba with profound hearing loss will now be able to get 80 per cent of the cost of their cochlear implant processor replacements covered.

Province will now cover 80% of external processor replacement costs for adults, like it already does for kids

Gladys Nielsen is the past president of the Manitoba chapter of the Canadian Hard of Hearing Association. She's among those who will benefit from the province's new cochlear implant coverage program for adults. (CityNews Winnipeg)

Adults in Manitoba with profound hearing loss will now be able to get most of the cost of their cochlear implant processor replacements covered by the province, Health Minister Audrey Gordon said at a news conference Thursday.

The new adult program will be the same as the existing pediatric one, which covers 80 per cent of the cost of an external sound processor replacement every five years, Gordon said.

"Expanding coverage of this program will ensure more Manitobans will be able to enjoy the benefits of good hearing and participate fully in life with their families and communities," she said at the Central Speech and Hearing Clinic in south Winnipeg.

A cochlear implant consists of initial surgical implants and external processors that need to be replaced periodically. While the cost of the initial surgery is already covered, the cost of the processor replacements was not until now.

The government announced it will spend $352,000 annually to expand health coverage to include adults who need the implants, Gordon said.

Among those who will benefit from the change is Gladys Nielsen, past president of the Manitoba chapter of the Canadian Hard of Hearing Association.

She got a cochlear implant in her right ear in 1997, but her pension income hasn't been enough to cover the nearly $11,000 for a new processor.

"My old body processor had been likened to an old John Deere tractor. It works, but not as it once did. It is obsolete and parts are not easily found," she said alongside Gordon.

The implant doesn't work without a processor, but living without a working processor wouldn't mean just mean losing hearing, Nielsen said.

"It would mean feeling lonely, depressed, stressed and not my active self," she said.

"I would live in silences. I have no hearing on my left [side]. No conversations, no communication, no sounds of nature, no ability to feel safe and part of the hearing world."

'Life-changing technology'

Nielsen was part of a group that has been lobbying the province to make the change and is glad their work has paid off.

The implants' "life-changing technology" give people with profound hearing loss access to sound with a processor behind the ear that captures complex acoustic information, said Dr. Jodi Jones, provincial otolaryngology lead for Shared Health.

That data is converted to electric signals, then transmitted to a series of electrodes implanted within the inner ear.

That delivers the information to the brain, where it's interpreted as meaningful sounds, such as speech, she said.

"The decision by the province to extend the coverage it already provides families with children to adult patients will allow those with cochlear implants to be supported in their hearing and communication needs for their entire lives," Jones said.

"It will have a tremendously positive impact on cochlear implant recipients and their families, whose financial worry about how they will be able to pay for replacement parts will be considerably lessened."

The program is expected to help as many as 40 people every year, including many over age 55, said Seniors and Long-Term Care Minister Scott Johnston.

Dr. Jodi Jones is the provincial otolaryngology lead for Shared Health. Jones says Manitoba's new program to cover most of the cost of cochlear implant replacement parts will have a positive impact on families struggling to pay for the expensive processors. (CityNews Winnipeg)

"We know that age-related hearing loss can have an isolating effect on seniors and we are going to contribute to correcting that," Johnston said.

"Seniors have so much to offer. When they are able to participate fully in their communities, it's to everyone's benefit."

More details about the adult cochlear implant program, including who qualifies, are available on the Central Speech and Hearing Clinic's website.


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