Since the 1980s, adults have used cochlear implants to combat hearing loss. The implants circumvent the regular hearing process, instead using a microphone to stimulate the cochlear. This is the part of the ear that registers nerve signals and sends them to your brain.
More recently, medical professionals have started installing cochlear implants in children. This has led to some discussion about whether cochlear implants positively affect brain circuits. Some children respond well to the implants. They can hear and develop other visual and language skills at a faster rate. Others seem to develop more regularly.
A five-year UC Davis study is currently examining the effects of the implants on brain circuits. In particular, it’s looking at the theory that other functions take over areas of the brain used for hearing in the hearing impaired. For example, the auditory cortex may find a new use for processing visuals after the installation of an implant.
In short, the brain falls out of balance. Researchers test this using cartoons. They have children watch cartoons with special speech patterns imprinted in them. They then examine how the children’s brains react.
Started in 2015, the study will examine 60 children over five years. It aims to determine what happens with the rebalanced brain and if it has positive effects. The results may help children adapt to their implants. It may also show that cochlear implants positively affect brain circuits.
There’s more work needed to determine the full effects of cochlear implants on brain circuits. Anecdotal evidence suggests they may have a positive effect. However, this isn’t seen universally.
If the study proves successful, we may be able to find out more about the effects of cochlear implants on the brain.