For Debbie and Jeff, who received their first cochlear implants within two years of each other, life has become “markedly better”, “more carefree… and spontaneous.” But learning to hear well with their new sound processors was a journey that started with a “what have I done?” moment and took determination and work to master. Now looking to get their second implants, the Canadian couple share their tips for overcoming the initial challenges post-activation.


Life is better with cochlear implants

Debbie and Jeff Gifford have found “life more carefree and… spontaneous” since they each received a cochlear implant. The couple had accommodated each other’s hearing loss for most of their 31-year marriage, but now everyday situations are “markedly better” with their CochlearTM Kanso® Sound Processors and a hearing aid, compared to two hearing aids.

Debbie and Jeff agree that their enjoyment of social events is no longer hampered by where they are seated or efforts to hear conversation. It’s more relaxing to kayak and safer to ride their bikes. Hearing important details in group and educational settings is less stressful.

Debbie and Jeff smile, proud to share tips for learning to hear with your cochlear implant

When Jeff started as a volunteer visiting palliative care patients, he often had to “strain with all his might to hear what they were saying.” Now with his Kanso Sound Processor, Jeff can hear their soft voices “so much better now… it makes these interactions even more special!” Debbie can take the executive minutes of her wine group meetings – something she could not hear well enough to do in the past.

But for Debbie, the first to receive her cochlear implant, learning to distinguish sounds and voices was a hard road. Seeing what Debbie went through in those first two years didn’t dissuade Jeff from getting his surgery, but it did lower his expectations.

“Neither of us perceived very much that first day,” says Debbie of their activation experience. “I heard my audiologist’s voice as ‘boing, boing, boing’ while Jeff described my voice as that of an opera singer and noises like bagpipes in the distance.”

Do Whatever It Takes To Succeed

Getting to their current level of hearing has come from a determination “to do whatever it takes to succeed” and with the support of family and friends. In the months following activation, Debbie and Jeff took every opportunity to practice their listening skills and share the following tips for learning how to hear with your cochlear implant.

Be committed to your auditory rehabilitation.

“I really attacked my auditory training with a vengeance,” says Debbie. “I spent about four hours a day on structured and unstructured exercises in the first year, while Jeff did similar activities and spent about 2.5 hours a day on training his first year.”

Incorporate your auditory training into everyday activities.

While taking their dog for a walk, Jeff would name cities around the world for Debbie to practice hearing and repeating. “We made it progressively harder by walking along busier streets and using many different categories of words,” says Jeff who would gradually get farther away from Debbie each time.

Ask friends and family to read to you, while you follow the words in the book.

This can be a good way to re-learn the rhythm and pattern of sentences as well as the sound of  individual words.

“Don’t forget to sometimes choose people with accents and not the clearest of voices,” says Debbie, whose friend read the Harry Potter™1 books with her over the phone.Debbie and Jeff share tips for learning to hear with your cochlear implant

Listen to podcasts and audio books.

Listening to podcasts and audio books allows you to choose the volume and speed as well as different accents as you practice with your new device. Debbie began with the clear-speaking hosts of news interviews and now listens to a variety of general interest podcasts most days. Starting six months after activation, Jeff prefers listening to TED Talks2 with closed captioning.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

“First off, disclose that you have hearing loss and state that you’d be appreciative if they could speak a little slower and louder than normal,” says Jeff. “If you can’t understand someone, ask if they could kindly re-phrase.”

Have visual resources on hand as a back-up option.

Even for those who have had their cochlear implants a long time, some noisy places still pose a challenge for hearing conversation. In the first few weeks while you’re still adjusting to your device, Debbie suggests having on hand a pen and pad or an electronic version such as the “notes” function on your phone. Additionally, there are “speech to text” apps available on the Apple® App3 Store and Google Play4, or you can also use a Cochlear Wireless Mini Mic 2+ to stream audio to your sound processor in group meetings and restaurants where people are difficult to understand or are speaking from a distance.

Enlist help.

Your Cochlear office or audiologist can put you in touch with someone who has already gone through the same process of learning to hear with a cochlear implant.

“They can act as a cheerleader or motivator,” says Jeff. “They have experienced many, if not all, the frustrations you are facing.”


In times when meeting in person is difficult, video chats such as Zoom5 and FaceTime®6, are a good option, and you can use an automatic web-based speech recognition tool such as Web Captioner as a visual support.

Utilize Cochlear’s online resources

Cochlear™ CoPilot is the new app designed for iPhone®7 that helps build knowledge and skills to listen and communicate while managing real-life situations.

Now planning for their second surgeries, Debbie and Jeff say they will use the same strategies in learning to hear with both ears.

“However, this time we’ll both be going through our auditory rehabilitation at the same time,” says Debbie. “So likely we’ll be pushing, cheerleading and just generally supporting one another in any way we can.”

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  1. Harry Potter is a trademark of Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.
  2. TED Talks is a trademark of Ted Conferences, LLC.
  3. Apple and FaceTime are trademarks of Apple Inc., registered in the U.S. and other countries. App Store is a service mark of Apple Inc., registered in the U.S. and other countries.
  4. Google Play and the Google Play logo are trademarks of Google LLC. Android is a trademark of Google LLC.
  5. Zoom is a trademark of Zoom Video Communications, Inc. and/or its affiliates.
  6. Apple and FaceTime are trademarks of Apple Inc., registered in the U.S. and other countries. App Store is a service mark of Apple Inc., registered in the U.S. and other countries.
  7. For compatibility information visit
Anna Martinez
Anna Martinez is the Associate Volunteer Engagement Manager and has worked for Cochlear since 2016. She is responsible for communication and onboarding with the Cochlear volunteer community. Anna is a Colorado native and enjoys being outside in the beautiful weather with her son.