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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Iowa Researcher Studies Effects of Hearing Loss in Children

Hearing well impacts every area of a child’s life — language and speech development, social skills, and future academic and personal success.

Yet little research has been conducted that focuses on infants and preschoolers with mild to severe hearing loss to determine what support or services will help them succeed.

[Photo: Dr. Jacob Oleson]

A large-scale longitudinal study, the first-of-its-kind in the nation, followed children ranging in age from six months to seven years old who experienced mild to severe hearing loss. The Outcomes of Children with Hearing Loss (OCHL) study, conducted by researchers at the University of Iowa, Boys Town National Research Hospital, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, examined the impact of early identification and intervention on children with hearing loss.

The researchers discovered that children with mild to severe hearing loss, as a group, have poorer language development than their hearing peers, and the impact of hearing loss on language increases as the amount of hearing loss increases.

Dr. Jacob Oleson, associate professor of biostatistics at the University of Iowa College of Public Health was the biostatistician on this multi-site study. According to Dr. Oleson, the study is the first of its kind to specifically evaluate the impact that wearing hearing aids has on childhood development and academic outcomes. “We know that early intervention is key,” Oleson says, “and well-fit hearing aids that are consistently worn lead to expected benefits for language learning,”

While the study did show that providing children with well-fit hearing aids is associated with better rates of language development, it also revealed that 35 percent of children’s hearing aids were not fitted optimally, limiting the amount of access children had to speech information through the hearing aid.

Other main takeaways are that hearing aid provision in early infancy results in better early language outcomes; children who were fit later showed delays in language development, although this delay diminished with extended hearing aid use; consistent daily hearing aid use provides some protection against language delay and supports auditory development; the richness of parents’ or caregivers’ talk with the child influences language outcomes.

The study’s findings were published online Tuesday, October 27,  in a monographic supplement to the November/December issue of the journal Ear and Hearing, published by the American Auditory Society. You can read the special supplement here: