The 7 biggest risks to your child’s cochlear implant processor

Posted on July 24, 2014

They’re fiddly, they’re amazing and they’re expensive.

I can think of no other situation when any sane parent would hang £14,000 of delicate equipment off their children’s ears.

But if your child has cochlear implants, that’s what you have to do everyday.

Here in Blighty we don’t have to pay big bucks to buy them, replace them or fix them when things go wrong. We have the NHS and that takes the money pressure off parents who would otherwise be remortgaging at diagnosis and having financially induced panic attacks at every shake of the head.

Thankfully for our kids we’re not in that situation but in order to save the NHS from further financial problems, here’s a guide to the seven biggest risks to your child’s cochlear implant processors.

1. Sweat

Kids run about. Kids sweat. But cochlear implants don’t like moisture and many will stop working if even a teeny drop of kiddy-sweat gets inside them.

The best way to protect against another long drive to the implant centre? Ear Gear are cheap protective covers for hearing aids and implants. Cost £16. Saves thousands.

Close Up of a Boy with Attitude2. Throwing it in a fit of rage

The worst injury I sustained from a flying cochlear implant processor was a cut on the nose.

The ‘Little Lord’ strapped into his child seat wasn’t happy about something. I can still hear the ‘NO’ he shouted as he whipped the device off from behind his ear and in the same motion threw it at my face.

It was the sharp switch on top that did the damage to my nose.


Keep your guard up when cochlear kid isn’t happy. I looked in the rear-view mirror and watched the blood trickle down my nose. ‘Good arm, lad’ I said to myself.

3. Shopping trolleys

You’ll think I’m making this one up but it’s true. We lost an implant processor once (sorry taxpayer) because a shopping trolley whipped it off my son’s head in a supermarket collision and then rolled off before we knew what had happened.

For the uninitiated – cochlear implants have a magnetic transmitter on them which will stick to metal, including a shopping trolley with a mind of its own.

I still haven’t forgotten the incredulous look on the face of the lady at the implant centre as I tried to explain that one. ‘This is the last time, Mr Palmer’ she said.

iStock_000016870384Small4. Washing machines

When the kids get a bit older, its good to give them a bit more responsibility in taking care of their own equipment – prepare them for independent life.

Well, WATCH OUT if you do because if you’re not making sure those very expensive cochlear implant processors aren’t in the washing bin – who is?

The unique thing about watching a cochlear implant processor rotate in the washing machine is the way the magnet sticks to the drum at the back and the processor, hanging by its wire, gets repeatedly dunked in the soapy water with the dirty football kit.

Amazingly, after we pulled it out, it still worked! A drop of sweat causes a total malfunction but a 15 minute spin in soapy warm water is not a problem.

iStock_000007826096Small5. Other children

There’s a golden rule – other (normally un-deaf) kids are not allowed to touch the cochlear implant processor. Ever.

They are not allowed to motion as if they are about to touch the implant processor or talk about touching the implant processor.

They are not even allowed to think about touching the implant processor.

Nothing good can come from a six-year-old girl pulling the processor off my son’s head. The fewer children getting thier mitts on it the lower the risk. One is quite enough.

Establish a clear boundary about this early on as part of the new friend induction procedure. Touch it and you’ll be sorry.

iStock_000015063590Small6. Losing them

To me, there always seemed to be something completely pathetic about telling my son’s teacher that I had lost his processor.

It reminded me of being in one of my first jobs as a reporter and losing the case of the office camera.

My editor at the time, the mini-dictator that he was, made me scour the town looking for it; embarrassingly revisiting every place I had been that day asking if anyone had seen my camera case.

It felt exactly the same at the school office that day. I was reduced to a slightly wobbly and pathetic pleading teenage airhead again. ‘Hi, my name is Andy and I’m a doofus because I lost a vital and very expensive piece of equipment for my son. Again.’

Remember where you put these things at night, religiously, routinely, rollercoasters.

Roller-Coaster7. Rollercoasters

Centrifugal force acts on cochlear implant processors like it acts anything else.

On rollercoasters, that force is usually strong enough to overcome the plastic ‘huggy’ that usually keeps the valuable implant processor on the schoolboy to which it was assigned.

‘Nah, we don’t need to take them off’ said the boy as the restraints for the Nemesis descended past out heads and snugly onto our shoulders.

I don’t like to overrule him, better to let him make this call, I thought. He knows what’s what by now.

I wonder if the queuing onlookers detected our frantic panic shortly after the first bend?

There you have it. By taking steps to minimise the risks from the dangers listed above, you will save plenty of time and embarrassment (or money if you don’t have a free health service where you live)

When all said and done, cochlear implants are just very clever bits of electronics and plastic. They are just as vulnerable as any other bit of technology – but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have family fun or take a few risks.

And don’t be too hard on yourself if they do go wrong, go missing or end up in the hot wash. It wasn’t as if you applied for the job of cochlear implant protector in the first place, was it?

Update: Uh-oh!

By Andy Palmer, Deputy Editor. 

Andy is Chairman of the Peterborough and District Deaf Children’s Society and teaches sign language in primary schools. Contact him on twitter @LC_AndyP

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Posted in: Andy Palmer