Entries in Hearing Aids (2)


Deaf 10-Year-Old Regains Hearing with Cochlear Implant

ABC News(DALLAS) -- The sound of Sammie Hicks's own breathing moved her to tears three weeks ago.

That's because it was the first time she ever heard it.

"I started to cry because it was overwhelming," 10-year-old Sammie told ABC affiliate WFAA. "I had no idea what the sounds were."

Born with a genetic mutation that caused her to lose her hearing as a toddler, Sammie was fitted with a cochlear implant – a kind of bionic ear that simulates hearing – and documented the process in an online video diary over the past several months.

In a video posted Wednesday from her home in Collin County, Texas, Sammie mimes robot arms and flashes a braces-clad smile when her mother asks what the implants sound like to her. The implants don't exactly mimic hearing, so Sammie thinks voices sound like robots.

Unlike a hearing aid, which amplifies existing sounds, the cochlear implant is designed to directly stimulate the auditory nerve, bypassing the damaged part of the ear. First, an implant is surgically placed beneath the skin. Three weeks later, it is turned on and works with an earpiece to process sounds and stimulate the nerve.

"When a cochlear implant is turned on, people will hear things they've never heard before," said Dr. Jennifer Smullen, who has performed hundreds of implant surgeries at Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary. "It's like someone who really needed glasses, put them on and realized they were missing the sunset."

Hicks's new favorite activity is taking long walks outside so she can listen to the birds, her mother, Jenifer, told ABC News. Other sounds are more annoying, on the other hand, like the air conditioner and the sound of her classmates turning pages.

"She wasn't expecting school to be quite so loud," Jenifer said. "She can hear everyone eating their snacks and writing on paper. And she can hear them breathing."

Sammie's younger brother, 9, went deaf "rapidly" over the last two years and just had the same cochlear implant surgery, Jenifer said. His implants will be turned on June 7.

"When we brought him home from surgery, she broke down in tears because she knew what he was going through," Jenifer said. "She wouldn't leave his side."

In Wednesday's video diary entry, Jenifer asked Sammie if she had any advice for her brother.

"After it gets turned on, it's not going to be what you expected, of course," Sammie said. "If you jump around, the thing will fall off."

Sammie's brain learns how to process the information from the implants every day, Smullen explained. And as she learns, she'll update her video diary and share new sounds with the world.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Millions 50 and Older Suffering Hearing Loss But Not Using Aids

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(BALTIMORE, Md.) -- Of the 4.5 million 50- to 59-year-olds in the United States experiencing hearing loss, only about 4.3 percent are using hearing aids.

“These people are still working and going to meetings,” said Dr. Frank Lin, assistant professor in the department of otolaryngology and epidemiology at John Hopkins University. “They are the people who need it the most.”

In “The Prevalence of Hearing Aid Use Among Older Adults in the US,” which was published Monday in the Archives of Internal Medicine, Lin and Dr. Wade Chien, also of Johns Hopkins, found that of the 26.7 million Americans age 50 and older suffering from “clinically significant, audiometrically defined,” or real, hearing loss, just one in seven used hearing aids.

For the publication, the two examined data from the National Health and Nutritional Examination Surveys, which has collected health information from thousands of Americans since 1971.

Lin said there were several reasons for the gap between those suffering hearing loss and those using hearing aids. He said that hearing aids were rarely covered by medical insurance in the U.S., but noted that even in parts of the world where aids were covered, the rate of people using them was not much higher than that of the U.S.

“The biggest thing is the overall perception that hearing loss is an inconsequential part of aging,” Lin said.

He said that because of the perception, people felt there was nothing they could do to treat hearing loss and little research was done on the condition.

Pam Mason, the director of audiology professional practices at the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, said that many Americans 50 and older didn’t know the dangers of untreated hearing loss.

“Those that have mild or even moderate hearing loss may tell themselves: ‘I can get by,’” she said. “Somebody who has been a typical hearing person...if the hearing loss has been creeping on them...may not be aware that they are experiencing hearing loss. They don’t recognize they are having a problem.”

Both Lin and Mason said that ignoring hearing loss had broader, negative consequences. It’s been associated with poor thinking and memory ability and can lead to social isolation, depression and even dementia.

Lin said that most people 50 and older who did get hearing aids stopped using them because of improper counseling and training.  As with prosthetic devices, he said, hearing aids required two or three months of auditory rehabilitation to use them properly.

“They’re complex devices,” he said. “It’s not like putting on eyeglasses.”

Mason said that treating hearing loss was a process.

“It may even include auditory training, retraining your brain. It may include lip-reading skill improvement, recognizing how sounds look on the face,” she said. “Everybody is unique. Hearing needs are unique.”

“The most important parts for this population of people [ages 50 and older] is to recognize the signs of hearing loss and understand the negative consequences of untreated hearing loss and where to go for help you may need,” Mason said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio