Implants 'improve life' for deaf youngsters

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Profoundly deaf children who have an implant which allows them to hear some sounds save tens of thousands of pounds for society and also have a better quality of life, researchers have claimed.

Profoundly deaf children who have an implant which allows them to hear some sounds save tens of thousands of pounds for society and also have a better quality of life, researchers have claimed.

A study published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association is the first to look at the long-term impact of cochlear implants on deaf children.

Cochlear implants are electronic devices surgically fitted behind the ear. They do not restore hearing but allow the child to hear limited sounds by stimulating the nerve endings to produce electrical pulses. The implants, which cost around £40,000, have been available for adults for 20 years. Although British children were first fitted with the device in 1989 some parents believe the procedure is experimental and have refused to allow it.

The new research, from the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions in Baltimore, shows that children who grow up with the implants experience few long-term problems with the devices and are much more likely to attend mainstream schools and earn a good living than those who do not.

Neil Powe, professor of medicine, epidemiology and health policy, who co-authored the study, said: "The implant saves society money in the long-term and has many benefits for a large group of children."

The devices are only guaranteed for 10 years. But even with the cost of replacement, the saving to society is at least £35,000 per child, and could be as much as £7,000 a year extra for a lifetime, the study found.

Dr Kaukab Rajput, a consultant audiological physician at Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital, which has fitted over 136 implants, said there were many benefits to the operation. She said: "Those who can have it benefit from being able to go to mainstream schools and developing language which allows them to be part of the hearing world."

Catherine Scott, 41, of Newport in South Wales, took her daughter Elinor to have an implant when the child was five years old. Elinor was born profoundly deaf and the implant has given her hearing in her left ear, but has not robbed her of her deaf identity. She uses both sign-language and speech to communicate.

Mrs Scott said: "She has had the implant for three years and is very happy with it. She wears it at school, watching TV and at large family gatherings. Without it she is stone deaf, but with it on she has full hearing in one ear.

"Elinor is very sporty - she plays tennis, swims, horse-rides and enjoys football - and as the implant is cumbersome she takes it off. There is controversy surrounding [the] implants but we are confident we made the right choice with Elinor, as it has enhanced her life."

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