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September 20, 2004

Deaf kids do better if given hearing implant sooner

From: The Medical Posting, Canada - Sep 20, 2004

Researcher says newborns should get hearing tests before they leave hospital

Deaf children develop better language skills if they get hearing devices called cochlear implants at age two years rather than at age four or older.

A cochlear implant is a small electronic device surgically implanted under the skin behind the ear. It converts sound to electrical impulses and sends them to the brain.

A study at the University of Texas in Dallas showed more than four in 10 deaf children given cochlear implants at two years of age could speak and use English to communicate normally by the time they reached eight or nine, but far fewer children implanted at age four or older did as well.

The results were not quite what was expected, says Dr. Ann Geers, a study co-author and experimental psychologist.

"We surmised that after four to six years of cochlear implant use, those children implanted at four years, which is still pretty young, would have caught up with children implanted at two years. But, when I organized the data categorically, I found an advantage for children implanted at two years of age."

The language skills of 133 deaf children with cochlear implants were compared with those of children ages eight or nine with normal hearing. About 43 per cent of the deaf children implanted at age two years achieved normal results, versus only 16 per cent of children implanted after age three.

"These results further support the need for neonatal hearing screening of all babies before they leave their birthing hospital," Geers says.

She noted many children do just as well with hearing aids as they do with cochlear implants, but children with severe hearing impairment may need an implant. When an implant is needed and given early, and the child receives appropriate rehabilitation, these interventions "can allow the child to integrate quite well into hearing society."

© 2004 The Medical Posting