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Researchers Seek Answers for Varying Results with Cochlear Implants

Celebrating 35 years of Caring for Your Hearing

Meredy Hase tests a child, 1987  Kupperman and Hase work to license audiologists in Wisconsin, 1989

 

Hearing Loss UNDER Age 65

We used to think of hearing loss as something that only happened to our grandparents' generation. But you'd be surprised at how many people your age, and even younger, have a hearing problem.
According to a study recently published by the Better Hearing Institute, two-thirds of Americans with hearing loss are under the age of 65 and still in the work force. That includes one of every six "Baby Boomers" (ages 41 to 59) and one of every 14 "Generation X'ers" (age 29-40).

According to Meredy Hase, Doctor of Audiology, "Hearing loss is by no means an 'old person's disease' any longer. Each day, we see people of all ages come into our offices concerned they may have a hearing problem.

"There's even solid evidence to support the fact that for working Americans, hearing loss impacts their ability to make a living, up to $12,000 in lost income per year." (See related article)
Dr. Hase urges anyone who thinks they, or a loved one, may have a hearing loss to contact The Doctors of Audiology at Hearing Services without delay.

Auditory Deprivation

Auditory Deprivation refers to the fact that even though we "hear" with our ears, it's our brain that's the true organ of hearing.

When hearing loss is left untreated, the brain's ability to distinguish various sounds becomes less and less. Try to think of Auditory Deprivation as similar, in a sense, to muscles that atrophy when not used over a long period of time.

The reason Auditory Deprivation is important is that we have ample evidence proving how long people will wait before seeking help for a suspected hearing loss. Up to ten years, by some estimates.

In other words, the longer you wait to get help for your hearing loss, the less even the most advanced hearing instruments will be able to help you hear better. That's one more reason physicians recommend annual hearing checks as part of an overall health assessment.
The Doctors of Audiology at Hearing Services can perform hearing screenings that take only a few minutes. Concerned individuals are urged to contact them at the first signs of hearing loss, such as an inability to understand conversations in a crowded room or having to turn up the TV volume in order to hear.

Hearing & Income Loss

After years of research, there is new evidence that links hearing loss and loss of income. A study released by the Better Hearing Institute in Alexandria, VA, proves that untreated hearing loss may impact household income by as much as $12,000 per year.

The study also shows that hearing loss, which affects more than 28 million Americans, two thirds of whom are still in the work force, results in an annual loss of more than $100 billion in wages and worker productivity. The good news is people who find help for their hearing loss can regain up to 50% of that lost income.

According to Meredy Hase, Doctor of Audiology, "One of the misconceptions about hearing loss is that it's 'an old person's ailment'. But we know that hearing loss crosses all income lines and impacts people of all ages".

The new "Open Ear" Digital hearing instruments are especially designed to help Baby Boomers feel more comfortable about wearing hearing instruments.

Anyone interested in receiving a FREE Demonstration of Open Fit hearing technology are urged to contact the Doctors of Audiology at Hearing Services.

Hearing Loss & the Family

For years, both researchers and hearing healthcare professionals have known much about the causes of hearing loss and how it affects the person who suffers from it.

But not until recently has attention been paid as to the devastating effects hearing loss has on family members and friends as well. This past year alone, several organizations have weighed in with their findings on this often overlooked medical problem that by current estimates, affects the lives and families of more than 30 million Americans.

For example, the National Council on Aging (NCOA), a government agency whose task it is to research the lives of older Americans, released a study that confirms how often a person with hearing loss begins to feel isolated, eventually withdrawing from normal everyday activities and even from family and friends.

None of this is news, however, to Dr. Meredy Hase,  who says, "I realized just how much hearing loss also affected family members when we''d spend so much time counseling them when we''d fit their loved one with hearing instruments".

The benefits of better hearing were the subject of an NBC report that aired on an installment of the NBC Nightly News. In that report, the testimonials of several patients and their families provided evidence of how lives can be changed for the good, once the decision has been made to seek help for a hearing problem.

Those interviewed talked about how experiences such as watching TV or enjoying conversations with loved ones - things that were not possible with hearing loss - were once again part of the everyday enjoyment of life. Social activities like dining at restaurants of going to the movies were also among the range of family life experienced through better hearing.

Thanks to recent advances in technology more help is available than ever before for those whose lives are affected by hearing loss. If left untreated, hearing loss will almost always become worse over time, another reason Dr. Hase urges people to contact the Doctors of Audiology at Hearing Services if a hearing loss is thought to exist.

More Hearing Healthcare News
 

A cochlear implant is an electronic device capable of restoring hearing in a profoundly deaf person by directly stimulating the nerve endings in the inner ear. This technology enables people who have become deaf to be able to communicate orally again, even by telephone, and children born deaf to learn to speak and to benefit from normal schooling.

However, results can be extremely variable, with implants having only little benefit for some patients, without any means of predicting failure based only on purely clinical factors. Using data from brain imaging techniques that enable visualising the brain's activity, a neuroscientist at the University of Geneva (UNIGE) and a Parisian ENT surgeon have managed to decipher brain reorganisation processes at work when people start to lose their hearing, and thus predict the success or failure of a cochlear implant among people who have become profoundly deaf in their adult life. The results of this research may be found in Nature Communications.

A cochlear implant is an electric device designed to counter the loss of hearing linked to an inner ear deficiency, either congenital or acquired. First used as experimental devices in the 1970s, they have become commonplace since the 1990s. They provide many deaf people with a significantly improved ability for oral understanding and thus a considerable boost to their quality of life. However, despite the technological advances, there are still some 5 to 10% of adult patients who have become deaf for whom this technique remains stubbornly ineffective.

Why? In order to find an answer to this question crucial for clinical practice, Diane Lazard, an ear, nose and throat surgeon at the Institut Vernes (Paris) and Anne-Lise Giraud, neuroscientist in the UNIGE's Faculty of Medicine, have sought to identify which brain factors might be linked to the success or failure of implants.

The two scientists have studied how the brain of a deaf person manages to represent the sound of the spoken word and its capacity of re-using these representations after a cochlear implant. Anne-Lise Giraud explained: 'The test went like this. We presented some visual stimuli to the subjects, in the form of written word, and asked them to determine whether two words, without the same orthographic ending, rhymed or not - for instance wait and gate. Subjects would then have to recourse to their memory of sounds and, using functional neuroimaging (fMRI) techniques, we observed the neural networks in action.' Whereas the researchers were expecting that the subjects would be slower and less accurate that those in a control group of people without any hearing difficulty, to their surprise they found that certain deaf people completed the task quicker and more accurately than their normo-hearing counterparts.

The 'super-readers' and their reorganised brains

For 'Super-readers', who appear to be able to handle written words quicker than those with no hearing impediment, the brain has opted to replace orality by written exchanges and has restructured itself accordingly. The brain circuits used by such 'super-readers', and which are situated in the right hemisphere, are organized differently and thus cochlear implants give poor results. The other deaf people, those who carried out the task at the same speed as the control subjects, remain anchored to orality and therefore gain more benefit from cochlear implants. Unlike the 'super-readers', the latter manage to master lip-reading as deafness encroaches, and therefore maintain a central phonological organization very similar to that of normo-hearing people, which uses the left hemisphere of the brain. There are therefore two categories of subjects whose brain circuits function very differently.

This research points to the essential role played by the interactions between the auditory and visual systems in the success or failure of cochlear implants. Their outcome will indeed depend on this cortical reorganization. For 'super-readers', the fact of having adapted to deafness by developing certain "supra-natural" visual capabilities constitutes a handicap for the use of implants. Is it possible to go back in time? 'It's difficult to say at the moment,' says Diane Lazard, 'but the idea is also to be able to spot in advance the people who will have a propensity for the written stimulus and to offer them active means for remaining with orality, particularly with auditory prostheses and speech therapy used much earlier than is currently practised.' But as Anne-Lise Giraud explains, 'Equally we do not know why certain people quite unconsciously choose one direction rather than the other, but predisposition surely plays a part, because we all learn to integrate auditory and visual information by the time we are three. Certain people manage this better than others and, with deaf people, those who integrate the audio-visual elements best will probably have a tendency to remain more aligned with orality.' Such results also explain why it is so important to be able to equip congenitally-deaf children during their first few months, i.e. before the onset of the reorganization of the visual and auditory brain circuits, a process which may compromise their ability to access orality.