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Untreated Hearing Loss Puts Children at Risk, Better Hearing Institute Warns

Washington, DC, August 3, 2008 Too many children with hearing loss aren't getting adequate help and are being put at risk for social, emotional, behavioral, and learning difficulties, the Better Hearing Institute warned today, citing a national study exploring the unforeseen consequences of untreated hearing loss in America's children. The warning comes just as educators and parents are preparing for the start of school, and as Democratic and Republican policymakers are preparing their party platforms for the November elections.

In a recent national study-Are 1 Million Dependents with Hearing Loss in America Being Left Behind?-BHI found that America's children are paying a high price for the pitfalls in how parents, educators, the healthcare community, and policymakers are addressing hearing loss in our youth.

"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," said 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."

According to Kochkin, also a study co-author, the findings indicate that too many educators, pediatricians, and other healthcare providers underestimate the impact of mild or unilateral (affecting one ear) hearing loss. As a result, hundreds of thousands of children are left vulnerable to a wide range of social, emotional, behavioral, and academic problems.

A large part of the problem is that many parents today either don't recognize their child's hearing problem, minimize it, or have been given misinformation regarding the ability to treat the child's hearing loss. In fact, at least 50 percent of parents don't go back for detailed testing when their infant fails an initial hearing screening.

According to Kochkin, some of the most alarming findings from the study include the following:

  • Only 12 percent of children under the age of 18 with hearing loss use hearing aids; yet an estimated 1.5 million youth (including adult dependents) under the age of 21 have hearing loss that may be improved with amplification.
  • The study found no evidence of the use of any form of hearing assistance in the classroom (e.g. FM systems, hearing aids, speakers), other than front-row seating.
  • Hearing loss leaves children vulnerable to other problems, according to three out of four parents of children with hearing loss. Common problem areas include:
    • Social skills (52%)
    • Speech and language development (51%)
    • Grades in school (50%)
    • Emotional health (42%)
    • Relationships with peers (38%)
    • Self-esteem (37%)
    • Relationships with family (36%)

  • Three in ten parents (32%) cite embarrassment or other social stigma issues as a reason their child does not use a hearing aid.
  • One out of five (22%) parents says they are unable to afford hearing devices.
  • Four in ten parents were told that their child did not need amplification because they had hearing loss in only one ear.
  • Two in ten parents were mistakenly told that their child could not be helped because they had high frequency hearing loss. Another 20 percent were told they could not be helped because they had a low frequency hearing loss.

Key educational and public policy questions raised by the study include the following:

  • Do educators, medical doctors, and hearing healthcare professionals underestimate the impact of mild and unilateral hearing loss on children?
  • Are pediatricians sufficiently trained to measure hearing loss and advise parents of treatment options?
  • Is the prevalence of treatable hearing loss among children under-represented in the United States when subjective methodology (e.g., parental awareness) is used to assess hearing loss?
  • Do parents have viable options for paying for hearing aids for their children if they can't personally afford them?
  • Why are only a minority of children in America with hearing loss recipients of amplification, and what can be done in the medical and hearing health profession to make sure that all children receive adequate help for their hearing loss?
  • Are too many young people in America being left behind because they don't fit existing models of hearing disability?

Are 1 Million Dependents with Hearing Loss in America Being Left Behind was conducted by BHI among a national sample of parents of 225 youth from infancy to age 21-all of whom were reported by their parents to have hearing loss and not use hearing aids. The authors of this study 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).

"The findings of this study come as a shrill reminder that parents, healthcare providers, and educators must thoroughly address a child's hearing loss if we are to allow that child a fair and equitable opportunity for success," Kochkin continues. "Moreover, it provides an impetus for further dialogue among parents, educators, healthcare providers, and policymakers on how we can better serve our children with hearing loss."

Founded in 1973, BHI is a not-for-profit educational organization whose mission is to educate the public about hearing loss, its treatment and prevention.

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