Whether to get a cochlear implant is a big decision. It is an even greater responsibility when you are making the decision for your child. Since 2003, the cochlear implant program at Children's of Mississippi has helped hearing-impaired children throughout the Southeast to improve their sound awareness and communication.
Providing the only comprehensive pediatric cochlear implant program in the state, our center offers infants and children with severe to profound hearing loss the option of long-term hearing and oral communication. Our team includes an auditory/oral speech/language pathologist, education specialist, pediatric audiologists and ear surgeon, all with the goal of helping children hear. Children referred to our center undergo an interdisciplinary evaluation to determine their candidacy for cochlear implantation. The information obtained from this evaluation helps the team and the parents make the best decision for the child. Of course, if the child is old enough, he or she is an important part of the decision making process.
The cochlear implant, commonly called a "bionic ear," has two main parts: an external sound processor and an internal electrode array. The microphone, sound processor and coil are located in an external, removable headpiece commonly worn on the ear. The external sound processor transmits the information via radio frequency signals to the internal coil surgically implanted beneath the skin. The internal coil then relays the signal to the electrodes placed in the cochlea. Rather than a hearing aid, which amplifies sound and uses the child’s residual hearing, the implant uses electrical stimulation to directly stimulate the auditory nerve inside the cochlea, or inner ear.
Infants as young as 6 months with severe to profound hearing loss should be referred to our center as soon as possible. Early implantation is a key factor in the degree of benefit obtained. The evaluation begins with testing with one of our audiologists and speech-language pathologists as well as a meeting with a social worker, if necessary. Families are counseled that cochlear implants will not instantly restore hearing and that rehabilitation with a speech-language pathologist is essential to success. Those who are deemed candidates and can commit to the rehabilitation process will then meet with the surgeon and undergo a CT scan of the temporal bones.
The time period needed to complete the necessary evaluations varies greatly between individual children. Before a surgery date can be scheduled, reliable unaided thresholds and aided thresholds for each ear and in a binaural (both ears together) condition must be obtained. This may take only a few visits for some children, but for other children it may take many more. We work with each family to coordinate appointments as much as possible to minimize the number of trips to our center.
The surgery lasts about two hours and is performed on an outpatient basis or as an overnight stay. Intra-operative testing may be completed by the audiologist, if needed. Approximately 2-4 weeks after surgery, the initial programming of the device is completed by your child’s audiologist and multiple subsequent sessions help fine-tune the stimulus levels needed for your child to hear sounds optimally. Children will also see a speech-language pathologist for ongoing therapy.
While several factors may affect your child’s outcome with their cochlear implant, including age at implantation and the family’s commitment to rehabilitation, most children benefit greatly from the surgery and treatment plan. Please contact us to schedule an evaluation and to further discuss your child’s needs.