Cochlear implant early in life helps children with hearing loss to acquire language and communication skills

Receiving a cochlear implant early in life helps children with profound hearing loss to acquire language and communication skills similar to their hearing peers, according to an article in the May issue of the Archives of Otolaryngology—Head & Neck Surgery, a theme issue on pediatric cochlear implants and one of the JAMA/Archives journals.

Cochlear implants are small electronic devices that are surgically implanted in the ear that allow profoundly deaf people to hear. According to the article, early identification of hearing problems and implantation of a cochlear device when appropriate have a positive effect on communication development in very young hearing-impaired children.

Amy McConkey Robbins, M.S., from the Communication Consulting Services, Indianapolis, and colleagues investigated the effect of age at cochlear implantation on the auditory development of children younger than three years, and compared the auditory development of these children with their peers with normal hearing.

The researchers followed 107 hearing-impaired children (age range, 12-36 months) who received a cochlear implant in North America. Listening skills were evaluated before implantation, and at three, six and 12 months after implantation. Evaluations were based on parental interviews regarding their child's listening behaviors in everyday situations, vocalizations associated with using the implant, and the child's ability to notice and interpret sounds.

The researchers found that "Infants and toddlers who receive implants show rapid improvement in auditory skills during the first year of device use regardless of age at implantation, although younger children achieve higher scores [on the listening skills evaluation]."

"Children who undergo implantation at a younger age acquire auditory skills nearer to those of their peers with normal hearing at a younger age. The mean [average] rate of acquisition of auditory skills is similar to that of infants and toddlers with normal hearing regardless of age at implantation."

The authors conclude that "Performing implantation in children with profound hearing loss at the youngest age possible allows the best opportunity for then to acquire communication skills that approximate those of their peers with normal hearing."
(Arch Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2004;130:570-574)

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