Younger children are faster to develop speaking skills after cochlear implants.
THE QUESTION Does the age at which deaf children receive a cochlear implant affect the pace at which they develop speech and language abilities?
THIS STUDY involved 285 children under 5 years old, of whom 188 had severe hearing loss or were deaf; the others had normal hearing. A battery of tests showed the children to be comparable in cognitive and motor skills. Cochlear implants were given to the 188 children with hearing deficiencies. After three years, speech and language skills had improved in all children. Scores for comprehension and expression for children given an implant before they were 18 months old nearly equaled those with normal hearing and were higher than the scores for children who got an implant when older. The older a child was when given an implant, the more the child's speech and language skills lagged behind the levels considered normal for that age.
WHO MAY BE AFFECTED? Young children who are deaf or severely hard-of-hearing. A cochlear implant is a small electronic device with external and surgically implanted internal components that transmit sound signals to the brain, bypassing inner-ear mechanisms that have been damaged.
CAVEATS The study did not include, for comparison, deaf children who were not given cochlear implants; the authors indicated that it would have been unethical to deny implants to some children. Interaction between the children and their parents also was found to affect speech and language development.
FIND THIS STUDY April 21 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.
-- Linda Searing
The research described in Quick Study comes from credible, peer-reviewed journals. Nonetheless, conclusive evidence about a treatment's effectiveness is rarely found in a single study. Anyone considering changing or beginning treatment of any kind should consult with a physician.