Are children good candidates?
The FDA has lowered the age limit to 12 months of age, and most children who are identified with significant hearing loss in infancy are implanted as soon as it is feasible. Getting a cochlear implant in early childhood exposes youngsters to sound during the critical period in which they learn speech and language skills.
The devices work best for children who have the following characteristics:
- profound hearing loss in both ears
- limited benefit from hearing aids
- in good health, with no medical conditions that would make the surgery risky
- willingness to learn how to communicate with the use of the cochlear implant
- support from their caretakers, teachers, and school programs to help them develop hearing skills
- younger than age 5. In a recent study, children who received a cochlear implant before the age of 18 months experienced vast improvement in their ability to hear, speak, and learn. (Older children who lose their hearing after they have developed the ability to speak can also be helped by a cochlear implant.)
- involved in intensive speech therapy and oral communication programs
How do I know if I’m a good candidate for a cochlear implant?
If you have severe or profound hearing loss, a team of experts at a cochlear implant center can determine whether you're a good candidate for this surgery. Typically, these experts include an ear doctor (otologist), audiologist, psychologist, counselor, and speech-language pathologist. The team works together to evaluate you, perform the surgery, and offer follow-up care.
You may undergo certain tests, such as:
- an exam of the external, middle, and inner ear to check for infection or abnormalities
- various hearing tests, such as an audiogram. This is a graph that charts how you respond to specific sounds
- a hearing aid evaluation
- CT or MRI scans to check the inner ear and hearing nerve, in part to determine whether the cochlea has a normal shape
- a physical exam to prepare for general anesthesia
- a psychological exam to assess whether you can cope with the implant (more common with children)
When you're being evaluated for a cochlear implant, counseling will help you to have realistic expectations, as well as make sure that you understand the commitment required for learning how to use the implant. After receiving an implant, many people benefit from participating in a rehabilitation program. The goal of this program is to develop listening skills through the implant. It is always recommended that children who receive implants participate in a rehabilitation program.