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Hi-tech hearing implants must be followed by rehab programmes say experts

Many deaf children receive hi-tech hearing implants but this has to be followed by regular therapy sessions and rehabilitation programmes say experts for them to really benefit. Something not many families are aware of.

In India, over one lakh children are born with hearing impairment every year and cochlear implants offers an effective remedy to those suffering from profound sensorineural deafness. Cochlear implants offer an effective remedy but only around 4,000 children undergo the procedure.

However, even those children who get the implants are not benefitted as the procedure is not followed up with regular therapy sessions and rehabilitation programmes, which is critical say experts.

The cost of a cochlear implants procedure is in the range of a whopping Rs eight to 12 lakh rupees. This includes the cost of the implant itself, hospital charges, surgical fee, post-operative care and audio-verbal therapy (AVT).

To address the high prices, the central government and some state governments introduced a free cochlear implants programs. The prices of implants came down to Rs 3.8 lakh through procurement under the Assistance to Disabled Persons for Purchase/Fitting of Aids and Appliances (ADIP) scheme, Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment.

However, once the surgery is done, many families don't follow up with therapies. Lack of awareness is one reason and the other is that the follow up therapists and programme are not within reach.

Ranjith Rajeswaran, an audiologist with Madras ENT Research Foundation says that hearing impairment is one of the most common disabilities. At the same time, it is the only disability that can be identified easily.

Hearing impairment can be resolved completely. The earlier the child is diagnosed, the better. Many children from families below poverty line get cochlear implants with the help of NGOs and hospitals. But their parents refuse to bring them for further training and rehab programmes. Without rehab programmes and therapies, a child who has done the expensive cochlear implant is not going to benefit in anyway. -Ranjith Rajeswaran, Audiologist, Madras ENT Research Foundation

Experts point out that a child who is born deaf can start hearing from 10 months of age if diagnosed correctly and given the right treatment. But the training has to be extensive. A child with cochlear implants must undergo intense therapy at least twice a week for a period of sometimes as long as three years.

Many parents are not told about this by ENT surgeons about the commitment of time required or money involved after the procedure is done. This is a big factor for economically backward families, many of whom cannot take time off from work or afford the travel costs to the nearest centre.

Experts say that making cochlear implants available is not enough and that there must be greater emphasis laid on the importance of the therapy that follows.

"It is inevitable to undergo rehab programmes after cochlear implants. Otherwise, the surgery won't be effective. The earlier you start doing them, the better it is for the child. It is best to not delay the process, says Dr Sabari Nath, an ENT Specialist from Kerala.

Without the therapy and the means for maintenance it would be a cruel joke to submit children to this surgery.

ALSO READ: #TechThursdays - Smartphone-based therapy & hearing aid could prove a game changer for the deaf community

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