Most people unfamiliar with hearing loss seem to visualize it as a continuum. Either you hear “more,” or you hear “less,” and all you need to do is turn up the sound.
Not quite. Hearing loss tends to be more patchy. For example, higher-frequency sounds are usually the first to go, particularly with age-related hearing loss. This usually means the person will miss out on sounds like s and z; or they’ll confuse similar sounds like t, p, and k.
A visual representation of hearing loss would most likely look something like this:
(Pardon the title; it came with the graphic.)
So, that leads us to the question: what does hearing with hearing aids or cochlear implants look like?
Well, the fundamental difference between the two is this: hearing aids amplify the sound input your inner ear and brain can perceive; cochlear implants replace your natural sound input with an electronic substitute.
I wish I could take credit for the concept behind this next illustration, but I saw it on another hearing loss blog eons ago, back in the mists of the time when people still used AOL and MySpace (much to the chagrin of humanity). I’ve replicated it below:
This, incidentally, is why you’ve got to be severely to profoundly deaf in order to qualify for a cochlear implant; the implant destroys what little residual hearing you have, and the substitute will be a “pixelated” version of the real thing. Implantation becomes a better trade-off when you don’t have enough usable residual hearing to begin with.