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    "When you lose your eyesight, you lose contact with
     things; When you lose your hearing, you lose contact
     with people."

          —Helen Keller (1880 - 1968)

Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan

Hearing loss has been identified by the World Health Organization as one of the most serious disabilities
among children and adults. More than 30 million people in the United States are in need of immediate
hearing services. Unfortunately, most people chose to deny that they have any hearing problem at all —
and when they final decide to seek help for their hearing problem — accessibility to hearing professionals
is not easy to find. The marketplace for the purchase of hearing aids presents a complicated picture
and afflicted persons often do not know whether to seek help from their medical doctor, a professional
audiologist, a retail hearing aid seller, a discount warehouse store, or online website services.

Hearing loss is an insidious disorder that generally develops slowly over the years, involving more and more
of our population with increasing age. It is estimated that one to two infants per 1000 births will have
profound congenial hearing loss. Significant hearing loss is found in 4% of young adults under the age of 45;
18% of baby boomers between ages 46 and 65 years; 30% of persons older than 66 years; and in at least 50%
of our population older than 80 years. It is further estimated that by the year 2030, the US will have more
than 75 million persons with hearing loss. The numbers of persons around the globe with hearing loss, especially
in developing countries, and without access to help for their hearing problems is far too immense to be calculable.

Hearing loss impacts communication, literacy, employability, and nearly every aspect of daily living. At its basic level, hearing loss interferes with our most human attribute: social communication. Hearing helps us share experiences, exchange ideas, transmit knowledge and enjoy socialization. However, most adults with hearing loss continue to deny that they have any problem with their hearing, blame others for muttering or speaking too softly, and may delay as long as ten years before seeking help. It is well documented that persons with hearing loss suffer from social isolation, frustration, anger, depression, and stress.

Hearing loss in children presents even more serious problems. Hearing does not exist in a vacuum; it is part of a complicated, interrelated, living, breathing, thinking organism that sustains the auditory responses to sounds and, in turn, our behavior is constantly modified by it. The childhood skills that are most interrelated with hearing are linguistics and speech. Both develop in the normal infant through hearing — albeit in different ways. Normal development and production of speech is dependent on the presence of normal hearing. Speech production intelligibility is directly proportional to the degree of hearing loss. In other words, the better the hearing, the better the speech. Not so for language. Language skills of children with hearing impairment appear to be fairly equally affected by almost any degree of significant hearing loss. The only factor that significantly affects language abilities in young deafened children is the time of intervention. In other words, the earlier the intervention, the better the developing language skills.

For those children who have severe and profound hearing losses that cause such devastation to their speech and language development,
and for those children with mild and moderate hearing losses who show delayed expressive language, all must be identified early enough to allow interventions that will lessen their problems. The highly technical advancements in hearing aids and cochlear implants make it even
more critical that we identify children with hearing loss as early as possible so that intervention can be properly implemented. We can now benefit from early interventions for deaf babies that will take advantage of the plasticity of their young brains to help them become fully functional hearing individuals.

The field of medicine gives us an interesting analog: it has been said that "medicine is unique among the sciences in that it strives
incessantly to defeat the object of its own invention." In our specialty area of hearing, such prevention can only be accomplished by detection of the hearing-impairment condition and by the proper and appropriate provision of advanced technologies, rehabilitation,
remedial therapy and education.

The Colorado Hearing Foundation advocates to help people with hearing loss achieve better hearing and better life outcomes.

Jerry L. Northern, PhD

President, Colorado Hearing Foundation

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