A cochlear implant is a device designed to provide hearing to children and adults who have severe-to-profound sensorineural hearing loss. The internal components are implanted into the inner ear and mastoid. The external components include a microphone and a speech processor. The cochlear implant provides useful information about spoken language and environmental sounds by directly stimulating auditory nerve fibers in the inner ear. The cochlear implant is recognized as a standard treatment for profound deafness by the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Otolaryngology — Head and Neck Surgery.
Who is a candidate for a cochlear implant?
Children of all ages with severe-to-profound sensorineural hearing loss in both ears are potential candidates. Our program has special expertise in evaluating deaf infants and toddlers. We recommend newly identified infants and children be referred to our implant program soon after the diagnosis is confirmed. A trial period of amplification with hearing aids combined with aural habilitation (hearing therapy) is an essential part of the evaluation process. For newly diagnosed deaf children, hearing aids may be loaned to the family for the trial period.
During the evaluation process, the cochlear implant audiologist will determine the child's ability to hear and to distinguish the range of sounds most important to understanding spoken language. If the child's ability is limited, he or she may be an implant candidate.
Children deafened by meningitis merit special consideration because of the frequent occurrence of cochlear ossification (new bone formation within the inner ear). Because of the potential need for urgent surgery, the hearing aid trial for children deafened by meningitis may not be required.
Children with auditory neuropathy may also significantly benefit from cochlear implantation. Potential candidates include those with the ability to detect sounds, but who are unable to develop and maintain age appropriate understanding of spoken language.
What are the benefits of cochlear implantation?
Benefits range from the detection of sounds to understanding speech without lip reading. Research has also demonstrated that after implantation children in oral and total communication programs often significantly increase the rate at which they develop language (spoken language or signed English, depending on the child's primary mode of communication).
In general, children who benefit the most from cochlear implantation are those who receive the implant after a shorter duration of deafness, are in programs that provide intensive auditory and speech training and have families firmly committed to the training process. Another important factor is the length of time the child uses the implant. Children who have used their device for more than three years often continue to improve ability to communicate.
Although the primary role of a cochlear implant is to help children to hear and understand speech, an implant can enable deaf children to learn to talk and to further their development of literacy (the ability to read, spell and communicate through written language). Children implanted early in life who receive intensive auditory and speech therapy are the most likely to develop age appropriate, easily understood, spoken language and literacy.