Deaf Children with Cochlear Implants may Experience Increased Risk of Cognitive Problems

First Posted: May 22, 2014 11:52 PM EDT

Children who need cochlear implants may be up to five times more likely to experience cognitive delays than those with normal hearing, including increased risk of problems with conceptual learning, working memory and controlled attention.

For the study, researchers from Indiana University examined 73 children who had received an implant before the age of seven and 78 children with normal hearing.

"In this study, about one-third to one-half of children with cochlear implants were found to be at-risk for delays in areas of parent-rated executive functioning such as concept formation, memory, controlled attention and planning. This rate was 2 to 5 times greater than that seen in normal-hearing children," said lead study author William G. Kronenberger, Ph.D., professor of clinical psychology in psychiatry at the IU School of Medicine, via a press release

Researchers found that earlier cochlear implantation could help decrease the risk of certain delays. 

"The ultimate goal of our department's research with cochlear implants has always been to influence higher-level neurocognitive functioning," added Richard T. Miyamoto, M.D., chair of the IU School of Medicine Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, via the release. "Much of the success we have seen to date clearly relates to the brain's ability to process an incomplete signal. The current research will further assist in identifying gaps in our knowledge."

As children suffering from hearing loss typically see improved functioning following implantation, researchers believe that earlier implantation and treatments could provide the solution. 

"Cochlear implants produce remarkable gains in spoken language and other neurocognitive skills, but there is a certain amount of learning and catch-up that needs to take place with children who have experienced a hearing loss prior to cochlear implantation," Dr. Kronenberger concluded. "So far, most of the interventions to help with this learning have focused on speech and language. Our findings show a need to identify and help some children in certain domains of executive functioning as well."

More information regarding the findings can be seen via the Journal of the American Medical Association Otolaryngology--Head and Neck Surgery.

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