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Children's Health

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Cochlear Implants for Kids: Earlier Surgery Works Best

Study Identifies a Window of Opportunity for Cochlear Implants in Deaf Children

Earlier Implants Can Close Language Gap continued...

For each year that a child with hearing loss does not receive a cochlear implant, they will lag behind in the rate of improvement in language development, Niparko and colleagues write.

“Children who receive the cochlear implant early and are supported with experiences that engage their interest through speech can overcome early deprivation effects,” he says. “Their rate of learning to understand and produce speech can approximate those of hearing children.”

The more support and interaction from caregivers and loved ones, the greater the benefit, the study showed.

“If you have a child who has severe hearing loss in both ears, implanting earlier is associated with better language and speech outcomes and less of a gap versus kids with normal hearing,” says Kay W. Chang, MD, an associate professor of otolaryngology at Stanford University and a pediatric cochlear implant surgeon at Lucile Packard Hospital of Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif.

Everyone can benefit from cochlear implants, but the kids that were younger when they received the implants benefited more, he says. “This highlights the importance of the early identification of kids with hearing loss.” Early diagnosis coupled with implant evaluation by a team that includes a speech pathologist, an audiologist, a child psychiatrist, and a surgeon is needed to make sure children can receive cochlear implants in a timely manner.

Cochlear Implant Just the First Step

There is a lot of work involved in the evaluation process, and after implantation as well, experts tell WebMD.

“If you put an implant on a child, you have to be sure to have the family on board with doing everything that needs to be done,” says Anne Oyler, an audiologist and the associate director of Audiology Professional Practice at the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association in Rockville, Md. This includes teaching the child to develop listening skills and interacting with the child.

“You can’t just put a cochlear implant on a child and be done with it,” she says. “There is still work involved with helping to develop speaking skills,” Oyler tells WebMD. “In and of itself, a cochlear implant is not a cure.”

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