January 10, 2008

Alexandria, VA — An estimated 1.4 million youth have hearing loss, but only 12% wear hearing devices, according to a national study released by the Better Hearing Institute (BHI).

Originally published in the September edition of The Hearing Review, the study shows that untreated hearing loss among young people leads to social, emotional, behavioral, and learning difficulties. Three out of four parents indicated their child experienced "minor" to "serious" problems due to their hearing loss. The most serious problems experienced were:

  • Social skills (52%)
  • Grades in school and language development (50%)
  • Emotional health (42%)
  • Relationships with peers (38%)
  • Self-esteem (37%)
  • Relationships with family (36%)

The study was conducted among a national sample of the parents of 225 youth from infancy to age 21, all of whom were reported to have hearing loss by their parents. Hearing loss was detected in physicians’ offices (51%), school (18%), and audiologists’ offices (17%). Only 7% were identified in hospitals through newborn screening.

Parents expressed a number of reasons why they chose not to provide hearing devices for their children with hearing loss. The most frequent reasons included:

  • Parents’ minimized, denied, or in some instances even neglected, their child’s hearing loss.
  • Pediatricians, audiologists, family physicians or otolaryngologists sometimes provided conflicting advice or advice based on misinformation (eg, hearing aids were not needed for hearing loss in one ear or high frequency hearing loss could not be helped with hearing aids.)
  • Three in 10 (32%) parents expressed concern about how others might perceive their child if he/she wore hearing devices.
  • One out of five (22%) parents said they were unable to afford hearing devices.

"Children need to be able to hear, not just in the classroom, but also because hearing affects language competence, cognitive development, social and emotional well-being, and academic achievement," said Sergei Kochkin, Ph.D., executive director of BHI. "Children who cannot hear well — that is, when their hearing loss is untreated or under-treated — could face a life of underperformance and broken dreams."

The scientific literature is clear that untreated hearing loss affects nearly all dimensions of the human experience. And the pediatric literature demonstrates that even children with "minimal" hearing loss are at risk academically compared to their normal hearing peers.

"Based on our findings, I am concerned that a sizeable population of young people in America is being left behind because they do not fit existing paradigms of hearing disability," says otolaryngologist Dr. William Luxford of the House Ear Clinic, a BHI Board member and co-author of the study. "We need a fundamental re-examination of the current hearing health policies and protocols influencing America’s children with hearing loss."

The authors of this study which also included Dr. Jerry Northern (Professor Emeritus at the University of Colorado School of Medicine), Pam Mason (Director of Audiology professional practices at the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association) and Dr. Anne Marie Tharpe (Professor of Audiology at the Vanderbilt School of Medicine) concluded that specific issues that should be addressed include:

  1. Do educators, medical doctors, and hearing healthcare professionals systematically overlook the needs of young people with minor or moderate degrees of hearing loss?
  2. Is the prevalence of treatable hearing loss among children under-represented in the US when subjective methodology (e.g. parental awareness) is used to assess hearing loss? Objective research indicates that more than 10% of children may have early evidence of noise induced hearing loss.
  3. Are pediatricians sufficiently trained on audiological diagnostic techniques and hearing device solutions to accurately measure hearing loss in children and to advise parents on appropriate treatment options?
  4. Do parents have viable options of paying for hearing aids for their children if they cannot personally afford them?
    Is there a way to mitigate the negative perception of hearing aids in the schoolroom?
  5. How can we strengthen audiological advocacy to assure that infants failing newborn screenings receive timely follow-up for their hearing loss?

Source: BHI