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50+: Live Better, Longer

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Living With Severe Hearing Loss

Cochlear Implants continued...

Cochlear implants can treat severe hearing loss in people from infants to older adults. In adults, Hughes tells WebMD, the implants work best when the brain still remembers how to interpret sound signals. The longer a person waits to receive treatment, the less receptive the auditory system becomes. This makes the outcome more difficult to predict.

Atcherson points out that adults need to have realistic expectations about how they will hear with a cochlear implant, especially in the beginning. At first, he had trouble distinguishing voices. "But in those first two months and the next two years, my brain adjusted. Music sounded better, speech was clear, and I got to the point that I use a cell phone."

While cochlear implants are not right for everyone, they have "a lot of potential to make a huge difference in someone's life," Atcherson says. "If someone makes the decision and they are self-motivated to get a cochlear implant, I recommend doing it as early as possible."

Cochlear Implants in Children

Time is of the essence in children, too. "The younger you implant a profoundly impaired child, the more receptive the brain and the better the outcome," Hughes says. "These children develop an incredible vocabulary."

Some children who receive a cochlear implant at a young age can attend mainstream school with minimal to no assistance. The outcome depends on several factors, such as parental involvement, other medical conditions, cause of deafness, age of implantation, and the underlying abilities of the individual.

To help with speech recognition, children with cochlear implants usually benefit from auditory-verbal therapy. This approach encourages children to rely on hearing, rather than visual cues, as they develop language skills. Kids learn to use their cochlear implants to listen to their own voice, the voices of others, and everyday sounds in order to develop their hearing skills.

Auditory-verbal therapy coaches parents to become the main facilitators in developing their child's hearing skills. A similar strategy, auditory-oral-therapy, relies on teachers and therapists to guide children in developing these skills. The goal of either approach is to help children comprehend and use spoken language in a way that enables them to participate in mainstream society.

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