Cochlear implantation in children who have experienced hearing loss at a young age can help develop speech and language skills.
A cochlear implant system includes several advanced components of technology that work together to bypass the cochlea to restore hearing by sending sound directly to the hearing nerve. The first is an internal component (the implant and electrode array) that a surgeon implants. The second is a series of external components that is worn on the ear and attaches to the implant (the headpiece and processor).
Dr Catherine van Dijk, head of the Cochlear Implant division at the Ear Institute answered a few questions about this life-changing operation.
How old must your child be before they can receive a cochlear implant?
If your child is born deaf, it is best to do a cochlear implant before the age of four. The procedure can, however, be done on a baby as young as ten months. The chances of developing normal speech and language are greatly increased if the operation is done as early as possible. However, we have had cases where children are born deaf and are implanted later, for example at the age of six, and they are able to catch up, and learn to speak and develop language.
How long does the operation take?
It depends on the skill of the surgeon. Skilled surgeons take about two to three hours to do the procedure. In most instances, your child is discharged from the hospital on the same day.
Is the operation painful?
Most patients do not complain of pain afterward and pain medication is often prescribed for three days. When the anaesthetic has worn off, your child can play as normal. But they have to take it easy, and try and get some rest.
Why does one have to wait for 30 days before the device is switched on?
A magnet is placed under the skin and the processor of the head piece also has a magnet. When the head is swollen after the operation, the magnets do not stick properly. We are very conservative when it comes to this and rather wait four weeks for the swelling to go down and only then do we switch on the device.
What happens during the “switch on” process?
At the “switch on” appointment, the external component is activated, and the child has access to sound for the first time. It is a day with mixed emotions as every child’s response to sound is different. Reactions may include smiling, pointing to the ear or even crying as hearing is a completely new experience for the child. For parents, this may also be an overwhelming day as it is the beginning of their child’s hearing and listening journey. Parental involvement and commitment to this journey is critically important.
What role do parents play in the success of the operation and rehabilitation?
If the surgery is a success, your child will have access to sound. The progress of listening and language development, however, differs for each child and is dependent on, amongst other factors, the commitment of parents in getting all the help and support needed. Parent guidance sessions and intervention with a speech therapist who has experience in working with children with hearing loss are vital for the development of your child’s listening and spoken language skills.
What are the benefits of a cochlear implant?
Hearing is one of our five senses. You can never reach your full potential if all your senses are not fully functional. The earlier hearing loss occurs in a child’s life, the more serious the effects on the child’s development. When a child has difficulty hearing, the areas of the brain used for communication may not develop appropriately. This makes understanding and talking very difficult.
Research and decades of experience demonstrate that cochlear implants often provide improved:
- Auditory awareness of sounds at levels within the normal range of hearing
- Speech understanding, sound clarity and language skills
- Hearing in noisy environments
- Quality of life
- Educational outcomes, with the potential to attend a mainstream school
We are passionate about helping your child to hear and communicate well.