By Frankie Huang
On Feb. 25, Hearing Health Foundation is celebrating International Cochlear Implant Day to raise awareness of this life-changing technology. Cochlear implants greatly enhance the lives of individuals with severe to profound hearing loss and individuals who don’t benefit from the use of hearing aids. Did you know that as of November 2012, there are 324,000 cochlear implants in use worldwide, and that number is growing daily!
Cochlear implants (CI) are electronic medical devices that are implanted via a surgical procedure. Although implants replace the function of the damaged inner ear, it is important to remember that CIs do not restore normal hearing but work by bypassing damaged structures in the inner ear and stimulating the auditory nerve. This sends signals to the brain, allowing the user to perceive sounds.
Researchers found that children 5 years or older with bilateral severe or profound hearing loss who are implanted with CIs have better speech perception and development over time than children treated with hearing aids. In addition, children with profound hearing loss who used CIs showed greater development of preverbal behavior than those using hearing aids.
Other researchers found that children receiving CIs before 24 months of age greatly benefit in terms of their overall language development. Levels of spoken language in children implanted before age 24 months were on par with their typical hearing peers by age 4.5, but those implanted after age 24 months did not “catch up” with hearing peers by age 4.5. It’s important to note the study didn’t evaluate language development or ongoing delays after age 4.5.
HHF is proud to have supported research in the 1970s that led to the development of cochlear implants. Since then the technology has continued to evolve and improve in order to increase the benefits yielded from having a cochlear implant and to reduce risks associated with an invasive surgical procedure. By further improving the design and the function of CIs, researchers may find a way to maximize all the possible benefits for the patient, to preserve residual hearing, and to improve the health of the inner ear.