Ears, Brains, and Hearing Aids

Ears, Brains, and Hearing Aids

April 23, 2014 In the News

Sullivan (2013) reports that until recently, habilitation for children with hearing loss has focused on providing access to auditory information through hearing aids, FM, and assistive listening devices. However, it is now apparent that cognitive and auditory development must be taken into account. Indeed, she reports intervention plans that recognize cognitive factors such as working memory and attention are necessary. Sullivan reports the brain is a malleable structure shaped by the presence or absence of sound. Of note, children with hearing loss who are identified by age six months and receive appropriate intervention and amplification have significantly better receptive and expressive language than later-identified peers. Specifically, children who received amplification by age three months and who received early intervention by six months and were implanted (i.e., cochlear implant) by age 18 months were able to keep pace with their typically developing peers.

Sullivan summarizes, "early intervention and amplification might not guarantee that a child with hearing loss will develop age-appropriate speech and language, but there is much evidence to show that providing the brain with access to sound, as early as possible, is a necessary first step to successful habilitation…expanding the direction of research to include hearing aids in combination with brain function is an important but under-represented area of research…." Sullivan notes that although the purpose of hearing aids is to make sounds audible, there exists variability as to "what the brain can do with that sound…."  Further, she notes  "auditory training" serves the purpose of teaching one to make better use of their (amplified) sound and of note, to presume either component of habilitation (i.e., auditory training or amplification) can successfully exist without the other, is shortsighted.

For More Information, References and Recommendations:

Sullivan JR. (2013) Little Ears and Brains—Hearing Aids and Intervention. Seminars In Hearing 34(4):288-297.

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