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Katelyn and Solenne

By Timothy Higdon

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You know well what it means to live with hearing loss: It can be lonely, scary, or frustrating. It can make us struggle to access the things — and the people — we love the most.

I know these feelings, too. In the U.S. Army, I was exposed to equipment, demolitions and weaponry without wearing hearing protection, and today I live with a bilateral hearing loss.

I cannot thank our supporters enough for making critical hearing and balance research possible. Having only recently joined Hearing Health Foundation (HHF), I already this generosity and enthusiasm for better treatments and cures so inspirational.

Support from private individuals is especially critical given how government funding for hearing loss research is so low relative to its burden on Americans.

Sisters Katelyn, 12, and Solenne, 11, of Connecticut, are among the tens of millions of individuals who benefit from advances in hearing loss research. Both girls were born with severe to profound hearing loss but showed no benefit from hearing aids. They have both since received cochlear implants (CIs).

Their mother, Genevieve, is grateful that Katelyn and Solenne are able to attend a mainstream school and thrive. Katelyn plays lacrosse and violin, while Solenne plays basketball and sings in the school chorus. Both girls take sailing lessons in the summer.

But Genevieve and her husband, Brian, know well that more advancements in technology and medicine will benefit their daughters, other children, and adults. Because there are limitations to CIs and hearing aids, the long-term objective for HHF is to provide far better quality hearing discovered through research.

Please make a contribution today to bring us closer to permanent hearing loss cures. Your generosity can make possible more scientific discoveries we — our veterans, parents, our children, spouses, friends — urgently need. 


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Amplifying the Home: A Technology Guide

By Neyeah Watson

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Living independently may seem challenging, or even daunting, to someone who has recently been diagnosed with a hearing loss. Fortunately, innovations in technology can vastly improve life and safety in the home. Functions like answering visitors at the door, waking up with an alarm clock, and responding to an emergency can be simplified with various tools. 

Below we review devices and applications that can help you or your loved one with hearing loss perform everyday tasks and live safely.

Waking Up
A specialized alarm clock with a round, vibrotactile device attached can be placed under one’s mattress or sheets. Instead of making sounds like beeps or music, the vibrotactile device wakes the sleeper through movement. A vibrating watch worn to sleep can be used instead of, or in addition to, an alarm clock with a shaker device. Like an alarm clock, these watches use vibrations and visual representations to wake sleepers.

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Responding to Danger
A multi-part device that includes a bed-shaker can be connected to a smoke detector to notify the resident of danger. One part is a flat, round, vibrotactile device placed under the mattress or other furniture that responds with movement when the smoke detector identifies a fire. The other part of the device mimics the design of an alarm clock. When activated by the smoke detector, strobe lights and/or the word “FIRE” display on the screen. Carbon monoxide devices for residents with hearing loss are designed similarly. If carbon monoxide is detected, the strobe lights and vibrating device are triggered.

Landline Phone Conversations
Captioned telephones help those who struggle to hear on a landline phone. These phones translate spoken conversation into visual text. The telephones look like standard phones with large screens attached. Most of these landlines transcribe what the other person on the other end saying, not the entire conversation. Captioned phones are available for free to individuals with hearing loss with documentation from a professional such as an audiologist or medical doctor. 

Smartphone Use
For those who use their smartphone as a means of communication at home, smartphone applications can make conversations easier by captioning the call in real time. Speech-to-text apps, the majority of which are free, use a computer voice recognition system to provide captions. Other apps transcribe in-person conversations picked up by smartphones’ microphones. 

Greeting Visitors
Door signalers notify residents of the arrival of visitors and can take different forms. Devices with screens—to show who is at the door or to indicate that someone is present—can be placed around the home. Other versions are connected to the doorbell; when the bell is detected, signal lights in front of the door will flash.

Acknowledging Natural Disasters
Weather alert machines come in the form of receivers that are connected to weather stations. When an emergency occurs, the receiver will turn on and issue a response, usually in the form of vibrations or an extremely loud alarm. Then the warning light will appear with a short message such as “TORNADO” on the display. External devices, such as strobe lights, sirens, and vibrating devices, will also be activated.

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Tuning In Montreal

By Neyeah Watson

Hearing loss is the third most common chronic health problem affecting people in Canada ages 20-79, and affects 10 percent of the population. Like in the U.S., hearing loss is undertreated in Canada. Fewer than 20 percent and one percent wear hearing aids and cochlear implants (CIs), respectively, for their hearing loss.

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A new policy championed by William Steinberg, mayor of Hampstead, Quebec—a suburb of Montreal—aims to make CIs more accessible to Canadians. In January, Quebec Premier François Legault authorized CI surgeries to expand to Montreal. Though CI surgery has been performed in Canada since 1982, Montreal was deprived a center for financial reasons. Following advocacy from Steinberg and others, government officials were able to make budgetary adjustments to allow for funding.

Steinberg, a bilateral CI recipient, has been at the forefront of the Montreal CI campaign. Steinberg was born with a severe to moderate bilateral sensorineural hearing loss, but was not diagnosed until second grade. “I got a hearing aid built into my glasses at that time,” Steinberg explains. “However, in those days they did not have the sophisticated hearing aids that we have today so it was basically an amplifier.”

Steinberg received CIs in 2004, at which time hearing loss in both ears had diminished to profound. Despite his powerful hearing aids, he could no longer carry out a reasonable conversation on the phone. “Today I can talk for hours and miss not much more than someone with normal hearing,” explains Steinberg, who also serves as president of the Cochlear Implant Recipients Association in Canada.

The Mayor’s personal experience with hearing loss inspired his ambition for  greater CI surgery accessibility by making the procedure available in Montreal. In Canada, the CI locations are limited geographically. Cities such as Toronto, Ontario, Ottawa, Ontario, Vancouver, British Columbia, and Saskatchatoon, Saskatchewan currently have centers for CI surgery. However, the cities are geographically scattered, requiring some residents with hearing loss to travel hundreds of miles for surgery. A center in Montreal will expand access and will hopefully encourage other cities to follow suit.

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The new cochlear implant program is expected to be especially helpful to children, who make up about 40 percent of cochlear implant recipients in Canada today. Children who reside in Montreal have to travel for check-ups and configuration, causing great inconvenience to families. Many individuals from Montreal expressed their frustration about the travel and inconvenience online.The approval of the new program in Montreal has lifted a burden.

Hearing loss affects all ages. There is no limit or expiration date on the possibility of restoring access to sound. As Vincent Lin, M.D., of Sunnybrook Health Science Centre in Toronto remarks, "Age is a number, as long as patients are in good health, there's no reason why they can't have this surgery done."

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Ready to Take On the World

By Neyeah Watson

Beginning at age 4, I had ear pain that caused recurrent infections. My mother, worried, took me to multiple ear specialists, the fourth of whom warned these infections could result in a conductive hearing loss. At 7, I underwent a successful corrective ear surgery that eliminated my infections almost entirely. Though my hearing has been salvaged, I still endure frequent sinus infections and ear pain that require monitoring.

My personal experience makes me grateful Hearing Health Foundation (HHF) has long been a vocal advocate for early intervention for babies and children with hearing loss. HHF’s primary focus is on advancing hearing loss research to find new treatments, and I look forward to what will one day be medically possible for my aunt and grandmother who live with bilateral moderate sensorineural hearing loss. 

Because affordable direct patient services are needed to put HHF’s research findings into practice, I’m also greatly appreciative of organizations like The Sound Start Babies Foundation for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Children, a New Jersey nonprofit that exists to support families of babies with hearing loss during the most critical years of brain development. Public funding in the state covers only about one third of the costs needed for early intervention, and The Sound Start Babies Foundation goal is for all families to have access to this quality of care, regardless of their ability to pay.

Fun in speech! One of Sound Start’s little learners is excited to see how many jungle animals she can stack, while working on the concepts "above" and "below." Credit: Kim Reis.

Fun in speech! One of Sound Start’s little learners is excited to see how many jungle animals she can stack, while working on the concepts "above" and "below." Credit: Kim Reis.

The Sound Start Babies Foundation was founded as Lake Drive Foundation in 1997 by community volunteers and parents of children with hearing loss in Mountain Lakes, New Jersey. Inspired by the foundation’s history and mission, I was eager to interview a few representatives from the organization, Jessica Griffin and Kayley Mayer, who make this work possible.

Griffin, who is President, discovered Sound Start Babies™️ when her son, Ian, was born profoundly deaf. Sound Start Babies™️ was Ian’s early intervention provider and greatly helped her family through his hearing loss journey, which included his cochlear implantation at 10 months. In gratitude, Griffin joined the volunteer Board of Trustees in 2014 and was appointed President after two years of service.

Kayley Mayer is a Teacher of the Deaf and Program Coordinator. She began working for the Sound Start Babies™️ program in 2010, the first year the full-day, inclusive nursery program opened up. For her first eight years, she taught in a nursery classroom and provided home-based services for children with hearing loss and their families. Now, she is teaching in the classroom, providing family training to families, and  working on programming development. Although Mayer, unlike Griffin, does not have a personal connection to hearing loss, she finds fulfillment in the progress that families gain in their short time with program.

Griffin attributes members of the Sound Start Babies™️ staff, like Mayer, with her son’s preparedness for mainstream kindergarten this fall at age 6. Her goal as President is to make sure that every child who has a hearing loss has the same wonderful experience as her son. As Mayer notes, each impactful experience is unique. “Every family is at a different point when we meet them, but by the time the child and family graduate from our program, they are truly ready to take on the world,” Mayer says.

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We are all fortunate for resources like Sound Start Babies™️ that help children who need hearing loss intervention succeed developmentally. Hearing is a precious gift, and I learned at age 7 that your hearing can be stripped from you without notice. I am grateful my doctors and parents acted promptly to ensure my hearing was preserved, making sure I, too, could be ready to take on the world.

HHF marketing and communications intern Neyeah Watson studies communications at Brooklyn College. For more information about Sound Start Babies™️ and The Sound Start Babies Foundation for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Children, see www.soundstartbabies.com.

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Comfortable

By Joe Mussomeli

Being uncomfortable can be nerve-wracking, strange, and sometimes scary. For my brother, Alex, 14, being uncomfortable is all of these things. Born with a hearing loss, Alex has felt uncomfortable so many times in his life it’s impossible to count them all. He recently found himself in an especially uncomfortable situation when he was invited for a swim and sleepover at a friend’s house.

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To most teenagers, these activities aren’t uncomfortable; they’re fun. But when Alex received his invitation, he was overcome by anxiety related to his hearing loss. He worried he’d take too long to change into his swimming clothes, which include a shirt that attaches to his waterproof cochlear implant (CI). He dreaded others seeing him wear this. He feared he wouldn’t understand every word the other kids said in the pool. Above all, he was nervous the other kids would distance themselves from him because he was different.

Swimming wasn’t even the most distressing part. It was the mention of a sleepover that troubled Alex most. Just the mention of the word “sleepover” made his stomach tie into a knot. Every night, he removes his CI and hearing aid. He places the devices in a dry and store dehumidifier box, powers on the box, and then, finally, goes to sleep. Carrying out this routine at a sleepover would be, in theory, extremely difficult. Alex would have to keep his hearing devices on while talking to his friends at night. At the conversation’s end, Alex would have to take off his devices, but if it resumed, he would have to go through the hassle of putting his devices back on, or he would have to be left out. The whole situation would be unconventional and nerve-wracking for him. Essentially, it would be uncomfortable.

Alex was so uncomfortable that he almost declined the invitation until our dad pointed him in a different direction. The morning before the sleepover, Alex asked Dad if he should go to his friend's house. My dad told him that he should. Alex was quiet for a moment before he poured out all of his anxiety. He told him about how nervous he was and all of his other discomforts. Dad responded, “I won’t tell you what to do, but I will tell you this: Do you want to be uncomfortable your whole life, or are you willing to take a chance?” He left Alex to think over these words.

In the end, Alex didn’t go to the sleepover, but he went for a swim. Yes, it did take him longer than the other kids to change for the pool, and yes, he didn’t hear every word his friends said in the pool. But he still went, he dove into a pool of discomfort, dealt with it, and to his surprise, he had a bit of fun. He texted my dad an hour later asking if he could stay until at least 9 PM. My dad replied with three words: “If you’re comfortable.” Alex replied with two: “I am.”

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How to Create a Healthy Hearing Environment for Children

By Alyson McBryde

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“How many times do I have to repeat myself?” If you’re a parent or guardian, chances are you’ve said this to your child before. Indeed, a part of parenting is repeating yourself―but what if it becomes part of a bigger issue?

In 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated “1.1 billion teenagers and young adults are at risk of hearing loss due to the unsafe use of personal audio devices including smartphones, and exposure to damaging levels of sound in noisy entertainment venues such as nightclubs, bars, and sporting events.”

The WHO indicates “unsafe levels of sound can be, for example, exposure to in excess of 85 decibels (dB) for eight hours of 100 dB for 15 minutes.” Exposure to dangerously loud sounds could damage the sensitive structures of our inner ear and lead to permanent hearing loss. Here’s the thing about noise-induced hearing loss: it is 100% preventable.  

As a parent or guardian, you can implement fun and effective hearing loss prevention activities and strategies like these:

Lead a Learning Experience
Look for science videos and activities that demonstrate how sound, the ear, and hearing work. Great examples include Hearing Health Foundation (HHF)’s interactive, captioned video, Kids Health, and The Magic School Bus.

Watch Out for Noisy Toys
A study on sounds emitted by children’s toys found “the average sound levels of the various toys were 106.8 dB measured at a point nearest the sound source,” according to ASHA. Use a decibel-measuring app to check out your kids’ toys before they play.

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Limit Time with Electronics
NBC News reports: “Each new generation of teenagers has found a new technology to blast music – from the bulky headphones of the 1960s to the handheld Sony Walkmans of the 1980s. Today’s young people are listening longer, more than twice as long as previous generations.” Remember when our elders told us to “go outside and play”? Encourage your kids to do the same.

Turn Down the Volume
Enforce the 60-60 rule: Allow your child to listen at 60% volume for 60 minutes at a time. Look into apps that allow you to set parental controls on volume levels and encourage your kids to take a break from nonstop sound! 

Beware of Noise Levels at Live Events
Did you know a live ballgame can reach 120 decibels? Live sporting events can be extremely dangerous for little ears. The same goes for live music shows. Bring along a pair of foam or custom-made earplugs!

Keep Those Little Ears Warm
If you live in a place with cold winters, make sure you kids have earmuffs or hats that cover their ears. Cold air may affect hearing with exostosis, known as “surfer’s ear,” which happens when abnormal bone growths interfere with the auditory process.

Swim Safely
During the summer, while attending swim lessons, or on vacation, protect your kids’ ears with swim plugs. Swim plugs help to prevent swimmer’s ear, or otitis externa, caused by bacteria inside the ear canal, which can lead to trouble hearing.

Treat Ear Infections Immediately
Kids experience ear infections far more regularly than adults due to the size and positioning of their Eustachian tubes. Seeking immediate treatment from an ear-nose-throat (ENT) specialist for otitis media―ear infections―could help prevent hearing loss in kids.

Invest in Earplugs
Whether they are made of generic foam or are custom-molded to fit in their ears, earplugs are a great barrier between little ears and dangerous levels of sound. Carry a pair wherever you go―you never know when you may need them! 

Get Their Hearing Tested
Hearing health should be treated no differently than any other part of your kids’ overall health. In the same way your kids get a full physical and vision test annually, build a hearing test into the routine! Hearing tests keep track of your kids’ hearing abilities, and if anything changes, your hearing health professional can help find a solution.

Alyson McBryde leads the customer success team for HearStore.

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You Are the Reason

By Elizabeth Keithley, Ph.D.

Your partnership with Hearing Health Foundation (HHF) is fundamental to new treatments and cures for hearing and balance conditions.

I am so grateful you are part of our mission—which, as a hearing scientist, I have always embraced.

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Support from you creates new possibilities for people of all ages, including brothers Anthony, Andersen, and Ayden, all born with bilateral hearing loss.

The boys wear hearing aids and are happy, social, and active students in a mainstream school.

They’re fortunate to have a mother who sacrifices for their hearing health, including five-hour round trip drives to their audiologist.

I am pleased to have witnessed so much extraordinary work funded by HHF that will better the lives of so many people just like these boys.

And I know someday, hearing restoration— which already exists in birds, fish, and young mice — will be possible for millions of folks who have hearing loss.

Progress cannot happen without you.

Please, if you are able, give today to bring us closer to realizing that dream.

Your generosity is urgently needed to accelerate new treatments and cures. We appreciate your consideration to give to HHF’s life-changing work.

Thank you and happy holidays!

 
 
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My Magic Ear Kid

By Joey Lynn Resciniti

Julia was a full-term baby born exactly one week before her due date. She was healthy and perfect. She passed her newborn hearing screening.

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The hospital bassinet had a cabinet underneath where the diapers were stored. If I wasn’t very careful with the doors, they would slam loudly. Julia would startle and cry.

At least she can hear, I thought. This would prove ironic to me when Julia showed signs of having problems hearing. When Julia was 15 months old, I became concerned with her speech—or its lack. She’d babbled a little bit as an infant and then didn’t say much until at a year or so when she said hi, once.

No one wanted to admit there was a problem. My husband was even a little defensive about the subject. Grandparents chimed in that she was just a “late talker.” When I mentioned my concerns to the pediatrician, he recommended the state’s early intervention program, which led to our qualifying for twice-weekly speech language pathologist visits.

All this time, no one suspected Julia wasn’t hearing. With the specialist’s help, small gains were made in her speech. She developed a vocabulary of a few dozen words but never progressed to speaking two-word sentences or multisyllabic words.

So by the time we made it to the audiologist over a year later, when she was nearly 3, I had come to terms with Julia having some level of hearing loss. I knew when she turned her back to me, she wouldn’t respond if I called, and that was a big sign to me.

A Series of Tests

Sitting on my lap in the soundproof booth, Julia turned toward the speaker that was making a loud sound. But as the sounds got quieter, I got a heavy feeling in my stomach. She stopped turning toward the speaker. Finally the audiologist leaned into the microphone and told me she was coming over to our room. I willed myself not to cry as she said she’d found a moderate hearing loss in both ears.

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The audiologist next used little headphones to transmit sound directly to Julia’s auditory nerve. The results showed Julia’s hearing loss is sensorineural, a nerve problem, and not a mechanical problem like a tube that is too small in the ear. I was told that it is not uncommon for a newborn to pass a hearing screening, like Julia did, and then find something later. The audiologist reassured me that we’d found it sooner rather than later, and that intense speech therapy would catch her up.

The next few months were tough. We scheduled an auditory brainstem response (ABR) test. For this test, the audiologist sedates the child and plays a series of clicks while measuring brain activity. This test is often done for young children to confirm their hearing loss before they’re fitted for hearing aids.

Our family was not ready to accept the first diagnosis and kept questioning the results. But I was with Julia in the booth, and knew it was correct. So when the ABR confirmed the hearing loss, I set to work managing the appointments and paperwork that would eventually help my daughter speak and thrive.

The first thing the audiologist showed us after the ABR testing was the “speech banana.” This was a confusing bit of information at first—banana? Speech? The speech banana is a visual aid for a very quick introduction to hearing loss and the varying levels of severity.

Normal hearing is in the 0 to 20 decibel (dB) range at the top of the banana. All speech sounds (vowels as well as consonants and consonant pairs) are above where Julia can hear with her 55 dB loss. Theoretically, without hearing aids she can’t hear any of those sounds.

Things louder than 55 dB, like a dog barking or a piano, would be accessible for her without hearing aids. But the tricky part is that it isn’t so cut and dry. Julia wasn’t unable to hear all language, and she also wasn’t always able to hear dogs barking.

Instant Change

We ordered hearing aids and earmolds. The audiologist showed us how to insert the tiny size 13 battery and talked to us about school accommodations and speech therapy as she programmed the little hearing aids for Julia’s specific hearing loss.

I’d thought about the moment she’d first hear with her new hearing aids. It was going to be the first time she’d hear my voice. Maybe the first time ever. I wanted to say, “I love you.” I wanted to say something nice, something comforting.

The audiologist worked the molds into her ears and clicked the battery doors shut. Julia’s eyes opened wide and her hands clenched on the arms of her chair. She could hear—and she was terrified!

“These are your new magic ears,” the audiologist said.

I didn’t say anything nice or comforting. I couldn’t help myself, I started to laugh! She looked so adorable, like she was on a roller coaster rather than an office chair. I forgot all about making a grand first speech and instead just beamed at her. Julia’s head swiveled to the ceiling. I noticed an obnoxiously loud fan for the first time.

On the way home, Julia tried to repeat just about everything we said. She could hear above the banana, all the vowel and consonant sounds. She began mimicking speech immediately. Every noisy thing that I had never taken the time to notice before was new and interesting.

We were warned that it might be difficult to get Julia to wear her new magic ears. The audiologist told us to be very firm so she wore the devices during all waking hours. If she tried to take them out, back in they went.

Eventually, at age 5, Julia learned to insert her hearing aids herself, with the promise of a sleepover once she could show responsibility. She began to take ownership of the aids, poring over earmold colors and designs (striped, swirled, polka-dotted) with the practiced eye of a stylish tween (she wasn’t yet 8). She became a connoisseur of the hand-shaped earmold (great) vs. one that is made through an automated process (not so great).

Responsibility Shifts

As time goes by, those early years begin to fall into their proper perspective. I used to think it would mean something to me if Julia could someday tell me that she heard me when she was a toddler. Time and distance have shown that she doesn’t remember much of anything from her prelingual years. Her memories start when she was about 4. Everything prior to that comes from pictures and videos.

Some of the videos, like one when she is about 2 showing her fascination with lightning bugs, are painful for me to watch. In the video, you can hear me prompting Julia to say the word “bug” over and over, and watching it now I see plainly that she is confused and cannot hear us saying the word.

I wish I’d realized back then that she needed help. I wish I hadn’t spent a whole year frustrating myself and my baby. If I had to do it again, I would tell myself to get her hearing tested. And also that she was going to be okay and that in three short years she’d be saying so much more than “bug.”  

Life with a 13-year-old hearing aid user is much easier. Julia is an independent seventh grader who gets straight As. We have as a family weathered ear infections with the potential to wreak havoc on a spelling test, late-night searches for a hearing aid battery among tangled twin sheets, and hearing aids that can’t be worn in the pool.

Now there are whole chunks of time when I don’t think about her ears, a blessing made possible by experience. We agonized when Julia’s hearing ability dropped another 15 dB to 70 dB, putting her in the severe category, and feared her hearing would progress even more, but it did not.

At the very first diagnosis, the ENT (ear, nose, and throat specialist, or otolaryngologist) assumed Julia’s loss is genetic, but the markers haven’t been discovered yet. The overwhelming majority of children with hearing loss—more than 90 percent—have typical hearing parents. We just don’t know.

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Years later Julia’s audiologist explained the drop: “Sometimes with a change in a child’s ear canal size, it may seem as if there is a 10 to 15 dB change in hearing across the frequency range. As the ear grows, a little more sound pressure may be needed to detect sound. This will result in what looks like a change in hearing but may just be growth of the ear canal.” This makes sense. After eight years of steady audiograms and this explanation, I am finally able to let go of those lost decibels and my fear of losing more.

Every now and then there’s a head cold, dead battery, or damaged bit of ear tubing, and I am once again that younger mother, riddled with anxiety about taking care of Julia’s hearing. But the shift in responsibility has become hers. Julia is the one taking the lead on troubleshooting her technology at home, school, the pool, wherever she goes. At 13, she is the one always needing to think about her ears. Perhaps that’s what we’ve been working toward all along.

This article originally appeared on the cover of the Summer '18 issue of Hearing Health magazine with a supporting story from Julia Resciniti  

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Hearing Better Through the Ages

By Rebecca Huzzy, Au.D.

Chances are, you visit your doctor for an annual physical, wear a seatbelt, and use sunscreen. These are just a few small efforts we regularly make to stay healthy and injury-free.

Tending to the health of our hearing is another important, simple way we can maintain our overall physical and emotional well-being. Supporting hearing health begins at birth, when we test newborns for hearing loss, and continues into our elder years, when assistive technology can vastly improve overall health and quality of life.

Diagnosing Newborns & Infants

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, hearing loss is one of the most common congenital conditions, impacting approximately 12,000 infants per year. About half of these cases are linked to certain genetic syndromes, such as Down syndrome, Treacher Collins, and Usher syndrome.

But with the advent of universal newborn hearing screening programs in the early 1990s, hearing loss can now be identified and treated very early. According to what we call the “1-3-6” EHDI (Early Hearing Detection and Intervention) national goals, infants should be screened by age 1 month; diagnosed by age 3 months; and in an early intervention program by age 6 months.

“The effects of providing acoustic stimulation to the immature neurological system, including the brain, and combining the input with a rich and meaningful environmental experience, allows children to develop sufficient auditory skills to learn spoken language at a very young age,” says Janice C. Gatty, Ed.D., the director of Child & Family Services at Clarke Schools for Hearing and Speech.

This means families should expose their infants to sound frequently and consistently—talking to them, naming objects, narrating actions, singing, and reading books. With access to sound and an early intervention program at this young age, a child with hearing loss can begin learning to listen, babble, and eventually talk.

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Common Risks for Adolescents & Teens

Since the prevailing cause of hearing loss in young people with typical hearing is noise exposure, we need to educate kids early, as many begin listening to music on personal devices, playing in bands, and attending concerts at a young age.

According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, exposure to sound that is higher than 85 decibels (the volume of a blender, hair dryer, or siren) for an extended period of time can cause permanent hearing damage. And the maximum output of most MP3 players is a powerful 110 decibels!

Fortunately, there are options for volume-limiting software that can mitigate unhealthy sound levels. Many devices offer parental controls and volume-controlling apps that limit noise levels, and there are various kid-friendly, hearing-healthy headphones available.

Follow the 80/90 rule: Set the maximum headphone volume to be 80 percent (not 100 percent), and listen for up to 90 minutes daily. If you listen for longer, lower the volume even more.

How Sound Exposure Catches Up With Us in Middle Age

“Adult onset hearing loss typically progresses slowly over the course of a number of years,” says audiologist John Mazzeo, Au.D., the audiology supervisor at Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Delaware.

Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) can have a sneaky, cumulative effect, similar to the impact of years of exposure to the sun. The people at the highest risk for NIHL work in noisy professions and include musicians, farmers, dentists, airport workers, and military service members. For those who spend time in loud environments, wearing hearing protection is the best way to guard against NIHL.

Ototoxic drugs (drugs harmful to hearing) and certain conditions, such as Ménière’s disease, can also contribute to progressive hearing loss over time. Regular screenings, prior to the recommended age of 50, are especially important if hearing loss runs in the family, or if you have symptoms associated with hearing loss, such as tinnitus, dizziness, or a perceived decrease in hearing.

Caring for Seniors as Hearing Abilities Change

Hearing loss becomes much more prevalent with age, affecting more than 30 percent of people over age 65, and 80 percent of adults over 80.

Hearing loss in seniors is linked to serious health conditions, including dementia. When communication is difficult, many people will avoid social situations, and research shows that social isolation is linked to cognitive decline, a key symptom of dementia. Additionally, difficulty hearing can impact the effectiveness of our other neural processes.

The risk of falls also becomes more likely with age, due to both decreased spatial awareness and increased cognitive load. A 2012 Johns Hopkins study found that older adults with mild hearing loss were nearly three times more likely to have a history of falling.

Staying Fit

If you’re diagnosed with a hearing loss, remember: Hearing loss is not only very common, it’s also very treatable! A licensed audiologist or hearing healthcare professional can discuss options with you, including hearing aids and assistive listening devices.

When it’s a loved one struggling to hear, or being stubborn about getting help, be patient. Gain their attention before talking, rephrase sentences instead of repeating them, and encourage trying out some kind of amplification.

Think of your hearing health as essential to your body’s complete performance. Our bodily systems are all interconnected; neglecting to protect our ears or refusing helpful interventions can have cascading health effects. When you take even small steps to protect your hearing health and that of loved ones, such as through regular hearing screenings and using earplugs in noisy environments, take heart in knowing you have bolstered your overall well-being.

Rebecca Huzzy, Au.D., CCC-A, is an educational audiologist at Clarke Schools for Hearing and Speech at its Philadelphia location and a clinical audiologist at Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Delaware. For more, see clarkeschools.org. This article also appeared in the Spring 2018 issue of Hearing Health magazine. For references, see hhf.org/spring2018-references.

Receive updates on life-changing hearing research and resources by subscribing to HHF's free quarterly magazine and e-newsletter.

 
 
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Teaching on a Different Route

By Lauren McGrath

Assistant Teacher Ms. Tiana Brown with two of her preschool students at Clarke.

Assistant Teacher Ms. Tiana Brown with two of her preschool students at Clarke.

The clock moves toward 9:00 AM as two teachers oversee the listening check with their preschool students, ages four to five, to verify that their hearing devices are operating properly. A critical test for children with hearing loss, the check is step one each day for colleagues Ms. Kathryn Smith, Teacher of the Deaf, and Ms. Tiana Brown, Assistant Teacher at Clarke Schools for Hearing and Speech in New York.

Assured that all devices allow optimal access to sound, Ms. Kathryn and Ms. Tiana are ready to begin a busy day in the classroom. Beyond following a typical preschool curriculum with pre-reading, pre-academics, math, science, art, music, and language, the two teachers lead social and emotional development and self-help instruction. Throughout the day, Ms. Kathryn and Ms. Tiana track students’ progress toward goals they've defined as part of each child’s professional team. Each team is comprised of a unique set of professionals, based on individual students' strengths and needs.

Both Ms. Kathryn and Ms. Tiana have long been passionate about working with children. Ms. Tiana takes pride in being an advocate who can provide emotional support to kids and Ms. Kathryn feels fortunate to spend her career working with young people who are full of wonder and excitement.

Ms. Kathryn Smith, Teacher of the Deaf, smiles with a student.

Ms. Kathryn Smith, Teacher of the Deaf, smiles with a student.

Ms. Kathryn holds a Bachelor's in Communication Disorders with a minor in Deaf Studies from SUNY New Paltz and a Master’s in Deaf Education from Hunter College. Ms. Tiana completed her Bachelor’s in Communication Disorders at St. John’s University. After developing interests in aural rehabilitation in school, working with children who are deaf or hard-of-hearing—where they can contribute to the success of many children with unique perspectives and experiences—was a natural career choice for both Ms. Kathryn and Ms. Tiana.

The progress that Clarke students make, despite not having the same abilities as their typical-hearing peers, impresses the teachers. Though the children have an “added challenge at the starting line,” they experience tremendous growth as a result of their efforts made both independently and in collaboration with their families and professionals, says Ms. Kathryn. She recalls a few of her classroom’s latest accomplishments. One child is celebrating her newfound ability to put her FM system on all by herself. Another student who recently received a cochlear implant is regularly responsive to the sound of his name in the noisy classroom.

Ms. Tiana reflects on positive experiences outside the classroom, such as daily trips to the park, which she particularly enjoys. “As soon as we step outside, a whole new world opens up for them. They tell me about the sounds they hear and the sights they observe—and I know they’re not missing out on a single piece of life.” She feels most rewarded at work when a student expresses gratitude for help she provided.

At 2:30 PM, the Clarke students make their way out of school and home to their families. As staff, Ms. Kathryn and Ms. Tiana also build relationships with the school’s families who, like the students, greatly admire the teachers and look to them for guidance. Ms. Kathryn reminds parents and families not to lose sight of their child in the diagnosis. “Your child has a hearing loss, but it is not all of them. Your hopes and dreams for your child can still be achieved; they may just take a different route.”

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