Increased Cognitive Risks in Children with Cochlear Implants

June 2, 2014
Jackie Syrop

Profoundly deaf children who receive cochlear implants had up to 5 times the risk of delays in areas of working memory, controlled attention, planning, and conceptual learning as children with normal hearing.

Profoundly deaf children who receive cochlear implants had up to 5 times the risk of delays in areas of working memory, controlled attention, planning, and conceptual learning as children with normal hearing, according to a study by Indiana University (IU) researchers published in the May 2, 2014, issue of Journal of the American Medical Association Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery.

Lead author William Kronenberger, PhD, of the IU School of Medicine, said about one-third to one-half of children with cochlear implants were found to be at risk for delays in areas of parent-rated executive functioning such as concept formation, memory, controlled attention, and planning. This rate is 2 to 5 times higher than that seen in normal-hearing children, said Kronenberger.

Preschoolers in the study were implanted at an average age of 18 months and they had fewer executive function delays than school-aged children, who were implanted 10 months later, at an average age of 28 months.

"Cochlear implants produce remarkable gains in spoken language and other neurocognitive skills, but there is a certain amount of learning and catch-up that needs to take place with children who have experienced a hearing loss prior to cochlear implantation,” Kronenberger said in a statement. “So far, most of the interventions to help with this learning have focused on speech and language. Our findings show a need to identify and help some children in certain domains of executive functioning as well."

The research also shows that many children develop average or better executive functioning skills after cochlear implantation.

The study followed 73 children who received cochlear implants before age 7 and 78 children with normal hearing to determine the risk of deficits in executive functioning behavior in everyday life. All children in the study had above-average IQs scores. The children in the study were divided into preschool (age 3 to 5) and school-aged groups (age 7 to 17).