Young cancer survivors in Lansdale often contend with hearing loss as a result of either the tumor or treatment to eradicate it. For many of these patients, hearing impairment has a negative impact on their reading skills.
Pediatric Hearing Loss
Brain tumors are among the most serious types of cancer, so those lucky enough to beat the odds and recover have a lot to be thankful for. Unfortunately, hearing loss is a common side effect. And for pediatric patients, that can be devastating in terms of reading ability.
An international study of 260 children and adolescent brain tumor survivors was conducted by researchers from St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, 64 of whom had severe hearing loss, in order to measure the skills that serve as the foundations for reading. According to results published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, those patients with severe hearing loss scored lower on all eight key assessments, including letter-word identification and working memory. Their lowest scores involved information processing speed and phonological skills (i.e., their ability to use sound in order to decode words). This hampered their ability to read at an age-appropriate level.
32 percent of brain tumor patients in the St. Jude study developed severe hearing loss during the course of treatment – even though they were given amifostine, a drug that supposedly protects the hair cells in the cochlea from damage. This might indicate that their hearing loss might was the result of damage from the tumor itself.
Heather Conklin, Ph.D., with the St. Jude Department of Psychology, said the results confirmed earlier speculation that hearing loss might contribute to poor reading in pediatric cancer survivors. The senior and corresponding author of the study explained, “Reading is a skill that takes a long time to learn and that we depend on for learning our entire life…this is the first study to identify the key cognitive components that lead to reading problems.”
Early Intervention is Key
One-quarter of children in Lansdale with cancer will develop either leukemia or brain and spinal cord cancers. The St. Jude study illustrates the importance of early intervention in giving these patients the best opportunity to succeed in reading. By focusing on improving the child’s neurocognitive and language-based skills – particularly processing speed and phonemics – doctors can help offset the effects cancer treatment has on the skills needed to master reading. Hearing aids and cochlear implants may also help, though additional research is required to see just how effective these devices are in helping children to read.
For more information, contact your Lansdale audiologist.