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January 27, 2003

Early implants help deaf

From: Health24, South Africa - 27 Jan 2003

Early cochlear implants are critical for deaf children to help develop the neurological pathways needed for hearing response, says a new South African study.

According to the study, implants in children younger than two years are more effective than in children between the ages of two and three, as they have a positive effect on the speech ability of deaf children.

Greater brain plasticity
These results can be attributed to greater nerve stimulation by early cochlear implants and the enhanced plasticity of the brain in younger children. This makes it easier for deaf children to acquire the necessary language skills, says Ms Lida Müller, study leader and senior audiology lecturer at the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa.

The results of the study were delivered at the October 2002 Ear, Nose and Throat Congress in Cape Town.

Better speech ability
The study involved 10 children below the age of two and 10 children between the ages of two and three.

The younger group's speech progression compared positively with the speech ability of hearing children and was marginally better than the progression in the older children.

"Early implants are strongly recommended. The child needs to be targeted at the critical age of acquiring language skills," says Müller. "It also makes the bonding process between parent and child more successful since the parent can talk to the one-year old deaf child in the same way as he (or she) would to a hearing child."

Findings confirmed by US study
These findings have been confirmed by a similar study, conducted in the US and led by researchers at the Universities of Texas and Arizona State. It included hearing and deaf children who received cochlear implants at different ages.

The researchers found that hearing children have rapid development of neurological hearing pathways in response to sound at an early age. They found that there can be similar developments in deaf children, but only if the children receive the implants before 42 months of age.

Both studies concluded that early exposure of the nervous system to sound stimulation seems critical to developing the neurological pathway necessary for hearing response. – (Health24 News, HealthScout News)

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