Technology for Tiny Ears
Technology for Tiny Ears
For children with hearing loss, the scientific research has shown that wearing a cochlear implant improves hearing and language skills and also improves verbal communication skills. Typically we see these major language improvements in the months directly following implantation but they do continue to progress over the longer term. The first few years of life are a critical time in a child’s overall development. It is during these years that the brain adapts best to change and learns the fastest. This is called “brain plasticity”.
Image from the movie Toy Story 4
The age of implantation is said to be the most important criterion in predicting the success of a cochlear implant in a child. The earlier a child is implanted, the better the results are with the implant. Scientific studies suggest that children who meet the criteria for cochlear implantation should be implanted before the age of 2 in order to achieve the best results. This is why it is important to have a good system for detecting hearing loss as soon as possible in infants. The earlier we identify a profound hearing loss in a child, the sooner we can intervene and the greater the chance of success. If you have doubts about your child’s hearing, or if certain reasons lead you to believe that your child may have a hearing loss (eg: congenital hearing loss in the family, presence of a syndrome, etc.), consult your doctor or audiologist as soon as possible.
Is there a minimum age to receive a cochlear implant?
Health Canada has approved the use of cochlear implants from around one year of age. While in some countries, children are implanted from the age of 6 months! As surprising as it may be, the middle and inner ear structures are already mature (adult size) by the time the baby is born. They will therefore not grow over time. It is important to make sure the newborn can withstand general anesthesia prior to pursuing a cochlear implant surgery.
Should my child get a cochlear implant?
If your child is diagnosed with severe to profound hearing loss in both ears, a cochlear implant is likely the best treatment option available if you would like your child to learn spoken language. In fact, 81% of children who are implanted before 18 months have been able to enter the same schools as their normal hearing age-matched peers. In some cases, parents refuse a cochlear implant and decide to opt for education with sign language. These would be specialized schools that have a rich Deaf community and culture. It is also possible to have a mixed approach, i.e. the child has a cochlear implant and in addition they learn sign language. You can discuss these options and their respective advantages and disadvantages with your audiologist.
Semenov, Y. R., Yeh, S. T., Seshamani, M., Wang, N. Y., Tobey, E. A., Eisenberg, L. S., … & CDaCI Investigative Team. (2013). Age-dependent cost-utility of pediatric cochlear implantation. Ear and hearing, 34(4), 402.