However, it's not clear whether implanting children before they turn age one is worth the potential risks associated with such early surgeries, the researchers said. The work will be presented next week at a meeting of the Acoustical Society of America.
The study, by Mario Svirsky, Ph.D., professor of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery, and Rachael Holt, Ph.D., post-doctoral fellow in otolaryngology-head and neck surgery, also supports the theory that there is a "sensitive period" for optimal language development during the early years of life. In the study, the speed at which language was learned was greater for children who received cochlear implants earlier. The implants provide congenitally deaf children with a sense of hearing, but the children must learn how to interpret the sounds the implants provide. The researchers studied 96 children who received the implants in their first, second, third and fourth years of life, evaluating their progress with language skills and speech perception every six months. Those who received the implants earlier consistently performed better on tests of language skills -- learning vocabulary, grammar, and other such language rules -- and speech perception -- their ability to understand spoken words -- than did those who received the implants later. "Not only is earlier better, but we found that language gains tended to be faster for children who received cochlear implants earlier in life," said Dr. Svirsky.
However, children implanted before they turned one year old did not appear to do any better than those implanted during their second year. Infants as young as six months old have started receiving the implants, but there are potential risks associated with such early treatment
Contact: Eric Schoch