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A Loss for Words - Do you Have Hearing Loss?

MSU doctoral student Gus Neoclis examining patient Ike Iheagwara.
Diane Lilli

During the train ride from the leafy suburbs of Montclair, New Jersey to New York recently, an 8-year old girl asked her mother a question repeatedly. Though the train was not silent, it was not particularly loud either. After asking her daughter to repeat the question a few times, the little girl asked her mother a question. “Mommy, are you deaf?”

Today in the U.S., there is no accurate count of how many Americans suffer from hearing loss.

Yet this epidemic of hearing loss, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, accounts for between “22 million deaf and hard of hearing to as high as 36 million deaf and hard of hearing”. This large multimillion span only points out a troubling fact – though millions are becoming hard of hearing or becoming hearing impaired, not all are being diagnosed or treated for their hearing loss.

An ambitious project backed by the only university in the state to offer a doctoral program in audiology, Montclair State University decided to attack the problem of diagnosing and treating this silent health issue in their community while training their students at the same time.

The result is a heady mix of training, state of the art equipment and good old fashioned community service.

If you want to have your hearing tested, this is one facility that offers reduced fees and promise not to turn anyone down due to monetary issues.

Dr. Janet Koehnke, Chair of the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at MSU, said part of the allure of opening the clinic off campus was to reach the local residents easily.

" We are pleased to be able to serve the greater Bloomfield-Montclair community by providing an array of audiologic services,” said Koehnke.

And what a facility it is. 40,000 square feet house a 10,000 square foot center for audiology and speech language pathology. Clients come in for hearing tests that include every conceivable modern piece of equipment designed to diagnosis a hearing issue.

. "The facility is state of the art," confirms Rosemary DeStephan, senior clinical supervisor for speech-language pathology. "We have every possible technological advantage in here. We can record and view sessions, which are great teaching tools for our students, and we also can observe our students from our offices."

The 10 classrooms and 10 research rooms for students in audiology and speech-language pathology include sound suites for diagnostic audiology testing; rooms for both individual and group speech and language therapy sessions, and space to assess both children and adults.

Maris Standing Appelbaum, the Director of Hearing Aid Services at the MSU Center for Audiology and Speech language Pathology, as well as a clinical preceptor , said what she finds amazing is the true cooperation between doctoral students and their supervisors or preceptors, who are present for all client appointments.

“We have our doctoral students work with clients, but there is always a supervisor present,” noted Appelbaum. “This is important. The students get first hand experience and the patients get the benefit of seeing both the student and the teacher.”

Appelbaum said that many clients experience hearing loss as they age, but sometimes a hearing problem can be a symptom of a more serious illness.

“We have had cases where someone comes in with an ear problem, and there is a tumor,” she noted. “There can be tumors of the eighth nerve or other types of tumors.”

Luckily, most people who endure a hearing loss can take advantage of the new technologically advanced hearing aids. And best of all, wearing a hearing aid is no longer a painful and public reminder that you have hearing loss. Hearing aids today are nothing like those of your grandmother’s generation.

Samantha Dzedzy, 25, knows first hand. Diagnosed at the age of 6 with a non-malignant Cholesteatoma tumor in her right ear, and later on her left ear, she has grown up wearing the ever-evolving and technologically advanced versions of hearing aids.

“Since I have worn a hearing aid since I was six-years old, I can tell you they have changed dramatically,” said Samantha. “When I was little, it was bulky and it showed. Now, it’s like an awesome accessory. No one knows I even have one.”

Her tiny pink hearing aid, which is available in a rainbow of colors, has some new perks too.

“My hearing aid is so cool,” she added. “It has a built in Bluetooth. I can get cell phone calls. And, with my new mic that I wear on my shirt, I can listen to my Ipod.”

Pausing for a moment, Samantha said her hearing loss truly shaped her life in ways no one could imagine.

“Next Spring, I am going to graduate with my doctorate,” she said.

Her field of study?

“I am graduating from Montclair State University with my doctorate in audiology,” she said.

If you would like to get your hearing tested, and live in the area, call the clinic at 973-655-3934.

As per the commuting mom and her 8-year old daughter who asked if her mother was deaf, this reporter has now scheduled a hearing test, which is long overdue.


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