Cochlear Implants Help Young Children More Than Expected

Kids under 5 have greater spoken language gains than predicted; younger age tied to steeper gains

TUESDAY, April 20 (HealthDay News) -- Children who undergo cochlear implantation before age 5 may have greater spoken-language learning improvements than predicted, according to research published in the April 21 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

John K. Niparko, M.D., of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, and colleagues conducted a prospective, longitudinal assessment of the development of spoken language in 188 children with sensorineural hearing loss who had cochlear implantation before the age of 5 years. Ninety-seven hearing children in the same age group were also enrolled in the study. The children were evaluated with the Reynell Developmental Language Scale to assess both comprehension and expression of spoken language.

The researchers found that children who received cochlear implants had greater improvement in spoken language comprehension and expression than was predicted by pre-implantation scores, although mean scores weren't restored to age-appropriate levels after three years. Younger age at implantation was associated with steeper gains in comprehension and expression (1.1 and 1.0 points per year younger, respectively), as was each one-year shorter history of hearing deficit (0.8 and 0.6 points per year shorter, respectively). Better residual hearing pre-implant, higher ratings of parent-child interactions, and higher socioeconomic status were associated with greater rates of improvement.

"Although not determinative, age at implantation and residual hearing were associated with rate increases in the acquisition of spoken language in children with cochlear implants. These findings underscore the need to develop objective tools that can monitor the benefit of amplification in supporting spoken language acquisition and guide timely intervention with cochlear implantation," the authors write.

Niparko has served on the advisory boards of Advanced Bionics Corp. and Cochlear Corp., which provided discounts on the warranties of the implants used in the study, as did MedEl Corp. Niparko has also served on the board of a school that has received gifts from cochlear implant manufacturers.

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