Auditory brainstem implants

Learn about auditory brainstem implants (ABIs), how they work and who they can help.

What are auditory brainstem implants?

Auditory brainstem implants (ABIs) are small, surgically implanted devices which bypass the damaged, non-functioning or absent auditory nerve.

Who can they benefit?

ABIs are designed for people who are profoundly deaf from a missing or damaged auditory nerve. This includes people with Neurofibromatosis type 2 (NF2) who lose their hearing after having a tumour on their auditory nerve removed. Other people who could be helped by an ABI include those who are born without a functioning auditory nerve and those who are deaf because of the size or shape of their cochlea.

These people can’t be helped by hearing aids or cochlear implants as they lack the auditory nerve function to relay the sensation of sound to the brainstem and the rest of the brain. An ABI allows them to detect when a sound is present and distinguish between different sounds. An ABI can also help with lip reading. With an ABI, people with profound sensorineural deafness can understand some speech, when lip reading in optimal listening situations.

What do they look like?

Auditory brainstem implants are similar in design and operation to a cochlear implant. An external processor and magnetic coil are worn behind the ear, transmitting sound to the surgically implanted receiver and electrode. The receiver is placed just beneath the skin. Unlike cochlear implants, the electrode is placed on the surface of the brainstem rather than being inserted into the cochlea. This means the implant bypasses the cochlea and hearing nerve and takes a short cut to the brainstem to simulate a sense of sound.

What else should I know?

As auditory nerve damage is very rare and the required surgery very delicate, auditory brainstem implantations have been limited to date.

Learn about other hearing loss treatments


The information on this website is for educational purposes, and is not intended to replace medical advice. Please consult a hearing healthcare professional to diagnose or treat a hearing or health problem.