IM this article to a friend!

May 23, 2004

Implants work best in younger deaf children

From: Columbia Daily Tribune - Columbia,MO,USA - May 23, 2004

Published Sunday, May 23, 2004

CHICAGO (AP) - The earlier deaf children get cochlear implants, the more likely they are to speak and comprehend language normally later in life, new research suggests. In fact, some doctors say doing the surgery in infancy might produce the best results.

In one study, children ages 12 months to 3 years showed rapid improvement in understanding speech during the first year after receiving one of the electronic devices, with the best results in the youngest children.

In another study, 43 percent of children who got implants at age 2 had normal oral language abilities at ages 8 to 9, compared with just 16 percent of youngsters who got implants at age 4, University of Texas Southwestern Medical School researcher Ann Geers found.

Geers said the longer implant use by the youngest children studied does not explain her results. Instead, she and other researchers say very early childhood is a critical period in the development of language skills, during which children hear and imitate sounds around them.

Both studies appear in May's Archives of Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery, released Monday. This month's issue focuses entirely on cochlear implants in children. The studies are among the few to examine implants in children so young.

Cochlear implants, typically implanted in one ear, use electrodes to transmit sounds to the auditory nerve and brain, bypassing nonfunctioning parts of the ear. The electronic devices are approved for use in children as young as 12 months, but some doctors have begun implanting them in even younger children.

"Babies spend quite a bit of time hearing and experiencing all kinds of sounds and speech in order to learn to talk," said Nancy Young, an ear specialist at Chicago's Children's Memorial Hospital. "It certainly makes sense to think that giving children the opportunity to hear as soon as possible would be beneficial."

The latest research did not look at whether putting implants in infants under a year yields better results than doing so at, say, 12 months or 18 months. Geers said she believes waiting until after age 2 might decrease the chances that a child will ever develop normal speech skills.

Of the 50 or so children who get cochlear implants yearly at the Chicago hospital where Young works, the youngest was a 7-month-old Chesterton, Ind., boy with inherited hearing loss who had the surgery in December.

The boy, Kevin Johnston, is now a babbling, cooing 1-year-old year old, and tests show his speech skills are "right on target" for a child his age, said his mother, Cindy Johnston.

Johnston said it was "a no-brainer" to have Kevin's surgery so young. In the three-hour outpatient operation, a cochlear implant was installed in the baby's right ear.

The same inherited condition affects her two older children, including a 4-year-old daughter who got an implant at 2½. "She's just about a year behind in language," Johnston said, a delay she thinks would not have occurred if her daughter had had the surgery earlier.

About three out of every 1,000 U.S. infants are born deaf.

Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved.