Research Probes Optimum Age for Implants Researchers at an infant hearing laboratory at the Indiana University School of Medicine is researching how infants with cochlear implants (CI) perceive and develop speech. “Infants are being implanted as young as six months now,” said Tonya Bergeson, an assistant professor in the Department of OtolaryngologyÿHead & Neck Surgery. “No ... Features
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Features  |   March 01, 2005
Research Probes Optimum Age for Implants
Author Notes
  • Dee Naquin Shafer, an assistant managing editor of The ASHA Leader, can be reached at dshafer@asha.org.
    Dee Naquin Shafer, an assistant managing editor of The ASHA Leader, can be reached at dshafer@asha.org.×
Article Information
Hearing & Speech Perception / Hearing Disorders / Hearing Aids, Cochlear Implants & Assistive Technology / Features
Features   |   March 01, 2005
Research Probes Optimum Age for Implants
The ASHA Leader, March 2005, Vol. 10, 5-13. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR3.10042005.5
The ASHA Leader, March 2005, Vol. 10, 5-13. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR3.10042005.5
Researchers at an infant hearing laboratory at the Indiana University School of Medicine is researching how infants with cochlear implants (CI) perceive and develop speech.
“Infants are being implanted as young as six months now,” said Tonya Bergeson, an assistant professor in the Department of OtolaryngologyÿHead & Neck Surgery. “No one has been able to really decipher how they’re doing. We’re trying to figure out if it does matter if they get an implant later than age12 months.” Bergeson is collaborating with colleague Derek Houston, an assistant professor.
Current literature indicates that the brain begins solidifying its hard wiring before age 3. This indicates that children who are implanted at an earlier age could have a higher likelihood of learning language in the same way as a hearing child.
One of the major questions the researchers are seeking to answer is whether infants with implants learn language the same way that hearing infants do. “If so, is it delayed or is it qualitatively different?” Bergeson said.
At the lab, hearing infants are being compared to those who have hearing loss. The children range in age from 3 months to around 3 years. “We use the information we receive from the hearing babies to give us an idea about what babies at different ages do with speech perception,” she said. Bergeson is focusing on multimodal perception of speech.
“We find this interesting because infants with implants have been deaf for the first part of their lives. We’re looking at how they learn to match up what they see on faces with what they’re hearing.”
One of the tests involves presenting on a TV screen the same woman in two images. In one image, the woman says, “judge.” On the other side, the woman says, “back.” Bergeson said the images are played at the same time to infants who are five months to 13 months of age. The hearing babies look longer at the face whose expressions match the sound being played. CI infants have not been able to make that connection.
“We’ve only tested a handful of CI infants,” she said. However, the infants who were tested had the implants for about six months. It could be they need more time to adjust. In addition, infants with implants did better if they were shown the woman whose speech matched her facial expressions.
Another area of research involves mothers communicating with their babies. Researchers at the lab have recorded moms talking and singing to 3- to 37-month-old hearing babies and CI babies. The groups were compared on the basis of hearing age (how long they have had implants) and chronological age. For example, an 18-month-old infant who received an implant at 12 months of age would have a hearing age of 6 months. Preliminary results show that mothers tailor talking and singing styles to the hearing age of their babies rather than their chronological age.
Bergeson said the lab is seeking to provide evidence-based research. A future step would be to measure infants’ reactions to hearing as well as to analyze linguistic characteristics. The lab has received NIH funding for five years.
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March 2005
Volume 10, Issue 4