New study: hearing aids improve speech and language development

Research

© Jennifer Russell-Dreamstime

Although it is commonly accepted that providing hearing aids to children with hearing loss early on has a positive effect on their speech and language development, there are few published empirical studies evaluating the effectiveness of this practice. The results of a new study in this area were published in early April in the journal JAMA Otolaryngology–Head & Neck Surgery.

The aim of the study, carried out by researchers from communication and childhood deafness centers in Iowa City, Iowa, and Omaha, Nebraska (USA), was to investigate the contributions of aided hearing and duration of hearing aid use to speech and language outcomes in children with mild-to-severe hearing loss. The study included 108 children aged 3 to 5 years with hearing loss who were recruited through records of universal newborn hearing screening programs and referrals from clinical services.

Study results showed that measures of the gain in hearing ability for speech provided by hearing aids were significantly correlated with levels of speech and language ability. The benefits were observed for children with mild and moderate-to-severe hearing impairment. Moreover, the level of benefit interacted with the duration of hearing aids experience.

In short, the more hearing aids improved children’s hearing, the better they scored on ability tests. “That may be because hearing aids bring those with severe hearing loss up to moderate levels, and those with moderate loss up to mild," says co-author J. Bruce Tomblin. “The change in hearing is about the same. Kids with mild losses can appear as though they're getting along okay so it’s easier to be casual about it,” he adds. “But hearing aids do in fact have an influence.”

Source: Reuters US. Tomblin JB, Oleson JJ, Ambrose SE, Walker E, Moeller MP. The Influence of Hearing Aids on the Speech and Language Development of Children With Hearing Loss. JAMA Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2014 Apr 3.

C.S.