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Can You Hear Me

President's Letter

From our President Ozzy Samad

At some point in our lives, there’s a good chance that nearly all of us have either heard or experienced a version of the question above. From being asked directly, though conceivably for a myriad of reasons, to other indications that our hearing has been impacted in some way. Unlike loss of vision however, it is often not as apparent to oneself; though a consistently blaring TV, seeming difficulty in understanding others in restaurants, speaking loudly or straining to hear at family gatherings, all being possible indications that one’s hearing is not quite where it used to be.

Thanks to your ongoing support of our work, BBF has been able to help four separate implementation partners initiate or strengthen programs utilizing mobile health clinics (MHCs). In Pittsburgh, our collaboration with UPMC’s Eye & Ear Foundation and Highmark/AHN has led to providing mobile vision and diabetes screening and primary care services to our underserved community members. To similarly address the issue of hearing loss, BBF is now working with the Eye and Ear Foundation to implement an audiology mobile health clinic.  The excerpts below are from BBF’s audiology research report compiled by our Director of Strategy:

Johns Hopkins University estimates that 38.2 million (14.3%) of Americans equal to or greater than 12 years of age have hearing loss in both ears. Of these:

  1. 25.4 million have mild hearing loss                >25 – 40 dB
  2. 10.7 million have moderate hearing loss       >40 – 60 dB
  3. 1.8 million have severe hearing loss               >60 – 80 dB
  4. 0.4 million have profound hearing loss          >80 dB

Both “mild” and “moderate” categories of hearing loss can greatly impact an individual’s ability to understand normal conversations. Mild loss means: Difficulty hearing softly spoken conversations, fast-paced speech, or speech in the presence of background noise and Moderate (or greater) hearing loss equates to: Difficulty hearing normal conversations in quiet environments even when the speaker is close to them. The chart below from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association provides a visual representation of what one can expect to hear (or not) at different levels of hearing loss.

In terms of daily living, hearing loss can have broad ramifications across one’s health and quality of life. The areas that suffer often include:

  1. Interpersonal Relationships: Where one is unable to communicate effectively with friends and loved ones, people with hearing loss often face social isolation and feelings of loneliness. To quote Helen Keller, “Blindness cuts us off from things, but deafness cuts us off from people”
  2. Mental/Emotional Impact: Studies link hearing loss to higher rates of anxiety, anger, and frustration, as well as fatigue and insomnia
  3. Career Barriers: Individuals with hearing loss are more likely to have lower employment rates and productivity. Adults with hearing loss are more likely to have lower income and be unemployed or underemployed than adults with normal hearing
  4. Healthcare Costs: Third-party coverage is limited, often causing substantial out of pocket expenses for patients trying to access hearing aids
  5. Dementia Risk: Studies have shown that people with mild, moderate, and severe hearing loss, respectively, have a much greater risk of dementia over time compared to people without hearing issues.

Hearing loss in children too is also very impactful towards their wellbeing and can significantly hinder development. Research has shown that even slight hearing loss of >15-24dB in children can affect learning, speech perception, social skill development and self-image, create a need for speech therapy, auditory training and special accommodations, impair speech and language development, and lead to decreased educational achievement and social-emotional development.

To address issues of hearing loss in the community, The Eye & Ear Foundation, UPMC, and The University of Pittsburgh (UPitt) have collaborated to run a robust clinical audiology program. The cost of pediatric audiology is covered by the state CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance program) and adult programs are offered for free to underserved community members. The program is run by Dr. Catherine Palmer, who is a Professor at The University of Pittsburgh, Director of Audiology for UPMC, widely acclaimed in her field, and a past President of the American Academy of Audiology. In addition to UPMC audiologists, UPitt students provide supporting care through a program called HEAR-UP – The Hearing Education and Resources for Underserved Populations.

An audiology Mobile Health Clinic (MHC) will enhance the work of these programs and assist members of our underserved communities, including the young and the elderly, address this critical and sometimes taken for granted sense.

Thank you as always for your support for our work and I hope you will consider supporting this very impactful project also!