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Ideal Age to Receive a Cochlear Implant

There are no guarantees or absolutes in cochlear implantation, and thus, there is no single ideal age for implantation in children. Because each family, each child, and the factors affecting each child are vastly different, generalizations can rarely be made.

It is widely accepted, however, that the earlier a child is implanted, the better his or her chance for success will be. Of course, ''success'' can be defined differently for every child.

Additionally, it is generally felt that there is a window of opportunity for learning the skills necessary for spoken language. Speech and language development occurs, for the most part, by age six. While it is possible to continue developing speech and language skills beyond age six, progress does not occur as quickly or as easily after that age. For this reason, implantation in children over six years of age who were born deaf may not always be encouraged.

Children implanted after the age of three years may require more frequent and more intensive speech and language therapy to progress at rates comparable to children implanted before age three. Implantation should always be weighed carefully against the child's educational and therapy environments, level of family involvement, and use of residual hearing with amplification, among other factors. As children progress in age, even more consideration is given to the complex combination of factors that might influence their success.

There are, of course, exceptions to even these general guidelines. For example, if a child loses his or her hearing after birth, particularly after development of spoken language, then he or she may prove to be an ideal cochlear implant candidate at any age. All other factors that impact success with a cochlear implant must also be taken into consideration. For example, a child with access to appropriate therapy services, resources, and educational environments could prove to be a better candidate than a younger child without access to such necessities. Additionally, children who have shown some degree of benefit and progress with the use of hearing aids prior to implantation will likely progress more quickly and easily than children who have never been exposed to sound.

The most important thing to remember is that every child is different. For this reason, implant candidacy evaluations often involve input from a variety of professionals.

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