When you lose your eyesight, you lose contact with things; when you lose your hearing, you lose contact with people.
– Helen Keller (1880 - 1968)
Hearing loss has been identified by the World Health Organization as one of the most serious disabilities. More than 30 million Americans are in need of immediate hearing services.
Hearing loss is an insidious disorder that generally develops slowly over the years, involving more and more of our population with increasing age. 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 60% of our population older than 80 years. It is 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, many 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. It is estimated that one to two infants per 1000 births will have profound congenial hearing loss, The childhood skills that are most interrelated with hearing are language and speech. Both develop in the normal infant through hearing — albeit in different ways. Normal speech development is dependent on the presence of good hearing. Speech 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 affected by any degree of hearing loss. The only factor that significantly affects language abilities in young deafened children is the time of diagnosis and intervention. In other words, the earlier the intervention, the better the developing language skills.
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. There is huge benefit from early interventions for deaf babies that 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.
Our mission at the the Colorado Hearing Foundation is to advocate for adults and children with hearing loss to achieve better hearing and better life outcomes.
Jerry L. Northern, PhD
President, Colorado Hearing Foundation