For those struggling to hear while wearing hearing aids, cochlear implant technology could be the key to unlocking a world full of sound. We recently had the opportunity to chat with actor and fitness icon Lou Ferrigno about his personal experience dealing with hearing loss. Lou has been a hearing health advocate throughout his life and now he’s speaking out about his recent cochlear implant to give others motivation and hope to live their best lives.
It’s estimated that 1 in 6 baby boomers are dealing with hearing loss, making our generation the largest group currently experiencing this disability. And while hearing loss is quite common as we age, there seems to be a social stigma around it. People often feel embarrassed or ashamed to admit they are suffering from hearing loss. It can take people years before they finally address their hearing loss and seek treatment.
Fellow baby boomer Lou Ferrigno, a fitness icon and famous actor who you probably know from The Incredible Hulk, is no stranger to hearing loss, nor is he a stranger to talking about it. Lou lost most of his hearing as an infant due to a series of ear infections and started wearing hearing aids when he was a young child. While some would perceive it as a disadvantage, Lou used his hearing loss as motivation and turned to athletics and bodybuilding. His hearing issues inspired him to “perfect his body” as he told us. By age 21, Lou won his first major titles: Mr. America and Mr. Universe. At 22, he came in second at his first attempt at the Mr. Olympia title. Through these competitions he gained recognition and went on to star as the Hulk in The Incredible Hulk television show.
While there are different types and causes of hearing loss, and we’ll touch on them briefly below, most baby boomers dealing with the disability are experiencing age-related hearing loss, a type of sensoneural hearing loss which can usually be treated with hearing aids. Hearing aids are fitted to the ear and make sounds louder. For a lot of people, hearing aids are enough to get back to living life normally. However, for some people dealing with hearing loss, there may come a point when hearing aids no longer cut it. And people with profound hearing loss, like Lou, may not get enough benefit from hearing aids to begin with. In these situations, a person may be a candidate for cochlear implants.
To determine how well your hearing aids are working and to see if you might be a candidate for cochlear implant technology, visit CheckMyHearingAid.com.
Even with hearing aids, Lou still always struggled to hear. So, when his producer friend (who had worse hearing than him) underwent a cochlear implant surgery and suddenly starting hearing at 98%, it gave Lou the push to do the same. He said, “I perfected my body. I spent my whole life perfecting my body and thought, why not do the same with my ears?” In February 2021, Lou underwent surgery and received the CochlearTM Nucleus® Profile™ Plus Implant. His new hearing system was successfully turned on in March 2021. Ferrigno now hears with his Cochlear Kanso® 2 Sound Processor, the first off-the-ear cochlear implant sound processor with direct streaming from both Apple® and Android™ devices.
While hearing aids amplify sounds, cochlear implants make sounds more crisp and clear, especially in a noisy environment. If you’re struggling to hear while talking on the phone or are often asking people to repeat themselves in noisy places, it would be a good idea to visit an audiologist to find out if a cochlear implant could be for you. For Lou, the clarity he experienced after his implant was profound. He told us “I thought I could hear with hearing aids until I got my implant and realized all of the things I didn’t know I could hear.” He was surprised to learn typical appliances like his refrigerator, microwave and computer made noises. If his family needed him at home and he was in a different room, they would have to text him, but now he can hear words from rooms away. He also doesn’t miss changing batteries all of the time, like he had to with his traditional hearing aids.
A cochlear implant does require surgery, which may make some people nervous. Lou described the surgery as “easy and minimal” and he was in and out the same day. He couldn’t bend over for a week or hear for three weeks, which is expected and normal as it takes three weeks before the cochlear implant is activated. Once it’s activated, the ear muscle needs to be trained, so patients will go through hearing therapy and rehabilitation. For some people, the process can take more than several months before hearing is optimal, but for Ferrigno it was just seven weeks. He credits his personal commitment to the process, saying “the more you work at it, the better it becomes.”
Lou is graciously sharing his emotional activation video with the world and you can watch it here.
We think it’s important that Lou is speaking out about his recent cochlear implant, as each day more and more baby boomers will start to deal with hearing loss as they age. Lou expressed his happiness at exposing his story to the world in hopes to raise awareness about cochlear implant technology and offer hope to others experiencing the devastating effects of hearing loss. Ferrigno hopes to stop people from feeling embarrassed or ashamed of their hearing loss and instead to find a solution that allows them to hear their best. As he said, “there so much more to do” in life.
Lou's sentiment applies to any age. As we get older, it sometimes feels like it's too late, or we're too old, to make a change. But 102-year-old Irvin Poff proves otherwise. He just became one of the oldest Cochlear implant recipients in the U.S. After prolonged noise exposure duing WWII Irvin struggled with noticeable hearing loss for over 30 years and is now hearing his great grandchildren's voices thanks to his cochlear implant. Cochlear Americas is sharing his activation video in order to give others hope that it's never too late to hear again!
For nearly 40 years, cochlear implants have been approved by the FDA. They are covered by Medicare, most insurance plans and typically Medicaid. Cochlear implants are available for adults of any age who no longer receive benefit from hearing aids. It has been shown that the sooner an adult who is a cochlear implant candidate receives the device, the better their hearing outcome will be.
For those baby boomers who think they may be showing sign of hearing loss, it’s important to address it. As we touched upon above, there are different types of hearing loss:
As Lou told us, “there was no shame” to hearing loss and his cochlear implant “became a life changer”. He would encourage all baby boomers to take that first step as he did. If you are struggling to hear, your first step would be to visit a doctor to find out what type of hearing loss you’re dealing with and what options you might have!
For more information on cochlear implant technology or to find a hearing clinic near you, visit https://www.cochlear.com
Photo courtesy of Lou Ferrigno