Aug 2019 Sydney Morning Herald

An Australian-first app has been developed to help people with a cochlear implant navigate the difficult next steps after the device is turned on. The implant, which gives even people with profound deafness the ability to hear, is considered a major medical breakthrough and a massive benefit for users. But the struggle many formerly deaf people face once they can hear the world around them is not as well known. “For some people it’s literally like learning a new language,” said Elliott Miller, the developer of the Hearoes app. “Most people don’t think about it but almost everything around you makes a sound, and it can be totally overwhelming for some people.”

Mr Miller, who had a cochlear implant fitted, said he got the idea for the app after going through the orientation process and finding it did not fully prepare him for the nuanced soundscape of the everyday world. “Shortly after switching the implant on I was out for a jog and I could hear this jingling sound and I couldn’t figure out what it was,” he said. “When I would stop [running] the jingling would stop. It was only when I got home that I realised it was the coins in my pocket.”

Hearoes app

The Hearoes app aims to streamline the transition to a world of sound

Elliot MillerApp designer Elliot Miller himself has a cochlear implant.

He pitched the idea at the 2018 eHealth Queensland Hackathon and it was picked up by the Royal Brisbane and Women’s hospital, which has an audiology unit dedicated to patients with hearing difficulties. Audiology team leader Carla Rose said the app had taken a series of paper-based learning modules and transformed them into an interactive program. “We do auditory training with patients but it’s usually sort of boring paper handouts like homework,” Ms Rose said. “Because the app is so engaging - people can do it at home in their own time - we’re hoping compliance is going to skyrocket.”

People who are adjusting to the implant need to learn which sounds are innocuous and which ones signal danger - the difference between a loud laugh and a cry for help can be indistinguishable for some. They also have to learn spoken English in many cases as many people who have always been deaf understand writing and sign language but have no conception of spoken words. “People think it’s like putting on glasses and suddenly you can see but for the implants it’s a completely different way of hearing,” Ms Rose said. The app allows patients to maintain contact with their doctor and allied health professionals even if they cannot regularly get to a consultation, which is particularly valuable for people in regional areas.

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