By David Branfield, Oswego County ARISE Advisory Committee
OSWEGO COUNTY, NY – Better Hearing and Speech Month has been recognized each May since 1927. This is a great time to raise public awareness about how to identify, prevent, and treat speech, language and hearing disorders. Have you taken the time to stop for a moment to consider the wonders of hearing and what life would be like if you had a hearing loss or speech and language disorder?
In his proclamation on May 21, 1986, President Ronald Reagan said, “Sounds, whether we produce or receive them, are an integral part of our lives. Musical sounds bring us a whole range of delight. Much of our knowledge of the world around us we learn through sounds. Conversations allow us to gather and convey information, to question and to receive answers; ringing fire alarms warn us to clear a burning building. Sounds – the ones we hear and the ones we make – help us to understand others and to be understood.
“More than 15 million Americans strive daily to surmount the isolation that hearing impairment so often brings. Over 10 million Americans endeavor to communicate despite speech disorders. We can help people with communicative disorders fulfill their potential by identifying and removing the man-made obstacles that limit their educational and occupational opportunities. Our efforts will enrich not only their lives, but our own.”
Today, 25 years later, an estimated 17 percent of the population has either a hearing loss or speech and language disorder. Language or hearing problems can occur at any time as a result of birth defects, common illnesses, accidents, brain injuries, stroke or severe noise exposure. Speech, language and hearing disorders can limit academic achievement, social adjustment, and career advancement.
Some of the medical risk factors for hearing loss are:
- Having a family history of hearing loss
- Taking medications that can harm the hearing system (ototoxic drugs)
- Having diabetes, heart, circulation or thyroid problems
- Having been exposed to very loud sounds over a long period of time or a single exposure to an explosive noise
Hearing loss is not just an ailment of old age. It can strike at any time and at any age; even childhood. Currently one out of five children has a hearing loss. Even a mild or moderate case of hearing loss could cause a child to have difficulty learning, developing speech and building the important interpersonal skills necessary to foster self-esteem and succeed in school and life.
Hearing loss is the third most prevalent but treatable condition among seniors, behind arthritis and hypertension. According to audiologists, adults with hearing loss will wait at least seven years before getting help. Perhaps they don’t want to acknowledge the problem, are embarrassed by what they see as a weakness, or believe that they can “get by” without using a hearing aid. Unfortunately, too many people wait years, or even decades, before getting treatment.
No matter the person’s age, there are a number of emotional side-effects that may result from hearing loss. They include:
- Feeling stressed from straining to hear what others are saying
- Feeling annoyed at other people because you cannot hear or understand them
- Feeling embarrassed from misunderstanding what others are saying
Time and again, research demonstrates the considerable negative social, psychological, cognitive and health effects of untreated hearing loss with far-reaching implications that go well beyond hearing alone. In fact, those who have difficulty hearing can experience such distorted and incomplete communication that it seriously impacts their professional and personal lives, at times leading to isolation and withdrawal.
Studies have linked untreated hearing loss to irritability, negativity and anger, as well as fatigue, tension, stress and depression. Social rejection, loneliness, and avoidance or withdrawal from social situations can also result from hearing loss. Other effects include impaired memory and ability to learn new tasks as well as reduced job performance and earning power. Perhaps most alarming is the link to reduced alertness, increased risk to personal safety and diminished psychological and overall health.
Knowing how to recognize the signs of hearing loss can be the first step in getting the proper treatment. These signs can be subtle and emerge slowly or they can be significant and come on suddenly. They include:
- Frequently asking someone to repeat themselves during conversation
- Having difficulty following conversations involving more than two people
- Perceiving that other people sound muffled or like they are mumbling
- Having difficulty hearing in noisy situations, such as conferences and crowded meeting rooms, restaurants, and shopping malls
- Having trouble hearing children and women
- Having the television or radio turned up to a high volume
- Answering or responding inappropriately during conversations
- Having a ringing in your ears
- Reading lips or more intently watching a person’s face when they are speaking
- Withdrawal from social situations that you once enjoyed because of difficulty hearing
Fortunately, most people with a hearing loss or speech and language problem can be helped. If the problem cannot be eliminated, speech-language pathologists, audiologists and support groups can teach people coping strategies. They may not fully regain their capacity to speak and understand or to hear; however, with support, therapy and assistive technology, people can learn to live more independently.
For more information about hearing loss or speech and language disorders or to find treatment assistance, call ARISE, Inc. at 342-4088 or TTY 342-8696 or visit their Web site at http://www.ariseinc.org/programs/oswego_services.html.