A world-first study of deaf primary school students has revealed children with double cochlear implants performed much better on exams than children with only one.
The University of Melbourne study, which appeared in the Journal of Speech, Language and Hearing Research, measured academic performance of 44 profoundly deaf eight-year-old children across Australia and New Zealand.
Children using bilateral cochlear implants achieved significantly higher scores for maths, oral language and written language. And the younger the child had received the second implant, the bigger the improvement. Children with profound hearing loss have historically learned at about 55 to 65 per cent of the rate of children with normal hearing. They tend to fall behind further every year they are at school.
As a result of the research, in May 2014 the New Zealand Government decided to fund bilateral implants for all children up to age six. Currently, public funding does not exist in Australia for simultaneous bilateral cochlear implants as a separate operating procedure. The second implant borrows from the traditional funding for all implants at the hospital.
Internationally, public funding for bilateral implant varies country by country. In some it is provided, in others it is discretionary and in others funding is only available for a single implant. Dr Julia Sarant from the University’s Department of Audiology and Speech Pathology, who is lead author of the new study, backs the call for Australia’s Federal Government to follow New Zealand’s example and fund double implants.
She said, ‘With two ears, the brain can use the auditory information from each ear to compare and process sound. Two implants give children the chance to locate different sounds, identify who is speaking in a group, and filter out background noise, even in noisy places.
‘With only one ear, children find learning very difficult because they tend to miss information amongst the constant buzz of the classroom and in the playground.
‘Low literacy, unemployment, social isolation, and depression can be lifelong repercussions of poor academic outcomes. It is crucial that our research leads to better government funding policy and best clinical practice.’
The study was conducted in partnership with The University of Melbourne’s Department of Audiology and Speech Pathology, Cochlear Ltd and The Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital.