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January 13, 2003

The Senses: Experts Urge Early Ear Implants

From: New York Times - 13 Jan 2003


Deaf children who need cochlear implants should get them before they turn 3 1/2, a new study reports.

Writing in the journal Ear and Hearing, researchers said that tests comparing brain activity had demonstrated that deaf children who received the implants when they they were very young had neurological development closer to that of hearing children.

"The message to parents has to be: you have to get that child implanted as early as you can," said one of the researchers, Dr. Michael F. Dorman of Arizona State University. The other authors were Dr. Anthony J. Spahr of Arizona State and Dr. Anu Sharma of the University of Texas at Dallas.

Cochlear implants, set deep in the ear, allow sound signals to bypass damaged areas. In the United States, more than 20,000 people use the implants, which can cost about $40,000 per person.

The study was intended to help determine the best time to begun using the devices. Doctors are now advised that they can put them in when children are as young as 1, and various other studies have suggested that the earlier they are used, the better children do, said Dr. Paul R. Kileny, director of audiology for the University of Michigan Health System.

For this study, the researchers focused on measuring brain activity, looking at more than 100 children, ages 1 to 17, who were born deaf and had the implants put it at various ages. The children were exposed to sounds, their neurological responses were assessed and the results were compared with those of hearing children.

Deaf children whose implants were put in before they were 3 1/2 tested best, the researchers said. Those given the implants between then and age 7 did not fare nearly as well, and those who received them later generally tested poorly.

Dr. Kileny said other studies suggested that deaf children should be given cochlear implants when they were 1 to 2 years old.

Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company