An auditory brainstem implant (also known as an ABI) is a surgically implanted electronic device that provides a sense of sound to a person who is unable to hear because of a non-functioning or non-existent auditory nerve.
Auditory brainstem implants have three main parts:
- A microphone and a sound processor / audio processor positioned behind the ear to pick up sounds
- A receiver / stimulator surgically placed under the skin to transmit information, picked up by the microphone, to the electrodes
- Electrodes that receive the signals from the receiver / stimulator. These are positioned directly on the brainstem that, when stimulated, provide you with sound and speech information.
Neurofibromatosis type 2
The ABI was originally developed for adults diagnosed with neurofibromatosis type 2, a rare genetic condition that causes tumors to grow on the nerves.
For people with neurofibromatosis type 2, the implantation of the ABI is normally performed at the same time the tumors are removed from the auditory nerves.
Today, an ABI can also be used by adults and children whose hearing nerve and/or inner ear do not work for other reasons. An auditory brainstem implant can for example be an alternative for people who are not able to use cochlear implants.
Connected directly to the brainstem
An auditory brainstem implant bypasses the ear – including the inner ear and the damaged auditory nerve – and connects directly to the brainstem. The auditory brainstem implant directly stimulates the hearing pathways in the brainstem to help detect sounds and provides users with a variety of hearing sensations.
Intensive training necessary
Following surgery and the post-operative healing period, the people with an ABI are required to undergo an intensive training period with a qualified audiologist to learn how to interpret the sounds and understand speech.
It is important to notice that the speech understanding with an ABI is not at the same level of people having a cochlear implant, other hearing implants or those using hearing aids. Intensive training is therefore even more important to get the greatest benefit from an auditory brainstem implant.
A candidate for an ABI?
If you think that you may be a candidate for an auditory brainstem implant, you should contact an ENT-doctor or an audiologist.