Sick Kids celebrates Speech and Hearing Awareness Month

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To mark May as Speech and Hearing Awareness Month, the Cochlear Implant Program at The Hospital for Sick Children (Sick Kids) celebrated on Tuesday, May 3, the gift of sound for patients who have received cochlear implants. Since the Sick Kids Cochlear Implant Program began in 1990, over 500 children have received implants at the hospital, establishing Sick Kids as the largest paediatric centre for cochlear implantation in North America.

Sick Kids performs over 70 implants a year in children ranging in age from 7 months to 18 years. Patients are treated by an interdisciplinary team of otolaryngologists, audiologists, auditory-verbal therapists, speech language pathologists, nurses and a social worker who work with a patient from the assessment to post-implant stages.

The Cochlear Implant Program is internationally recognized as a leading clinical and research facility for cochlear implants in children. Since 1998, research in the Cochlear Implant Laboratory at the Sick Kids Research Institute has focused on trying to determine the genetic causes of hearing loss and how it can be prevented in children, as well as exploring psychoacoustics (the science of how people interpret sound) in children with cochlear implants.

In the last year, the lab has also started investigating the effects of bilateral cochlear implants, where a child receives an implant in both ears. Researchers are studying whether enhanced speech understanding and an improved ability for a child to identify the location of a sound may be achieved through the addition of a second cochlear implant.

Different from a hearing aid, which amplifies sound, a cochlear implant bypasses the work of the non-functioning inner ear. It consists of three parts: an electrode array surgically placed in the cochlea; a transmitter and microphone worn behind the ear; and a speech processor, which looks like a small Walkman and is carried in the same way. The microphone picks up sounds in the environment and sends them to the speech processor which translates the sound into electrical pulses. The pulses travel to the transmitter which sends the signal across the skin to the implant. The electrodes stimulate the auditory nerve, sending sound information to the brain for interpretation.