John M. Burkey—
May is Better Hearing and Speech Month. You may have heard this before. Then again, you may have focused on May being arthritis awareness month, get caught reading month, national salsa month, or national bike month. More likely, May was viewed only with the comforting recognition that a long icky winter was over and a bright warm summer was on the way.
Unlike a long icky winter, however, communication difficulties may not go away without help. Some become worse if not addressed. Workers exposed to loud noise can develop permanent hearing loss if unaware they should use hearing protection. This also happens as a result of loud music, power tools, and firearms. Millions with hearing loss from noise as well as other causes try to ignore the problem even as they struggle to hear and understand what people say. Their quality of life suffers as they become isolated from the people and activities they most enjoy. In the elderly untreated hearing loss can create the appearance of dementia and may even contribute to dementia. Children born with a severe hearing loss may never develop spoken language without early use of hearing aids or a cochlear implant and then only after extensive speech and language therapy. Similarly, early intervention leads to better results for children who stutter or have unintelligible speech. Ignoring the problem doesn’t make it go away.
Inertia is perhaps the biggest obstacle. Physics teachers often explain how an object in motion stays in motion and an object at rest stays at rest unless some outside force is applied. People aren’t that different. We continue doing what we have in the past and typically avoid activities we have not done before. Change can happen of course, but a little push – perhaps some encouragement – is often needed. The goal of Better Hearing and Speech Month is to provide the impetus to get people moving in a direction that will positively impact their hearing and speech.
During Better Hearing and Speech Month audiologists and speech pathologists make special use of social media to raise awareness of speech, language, and hearing problems and highlight the importance of getting help. Newspapers and magazines print informative articles. Speech and hearing clinics may offer free screenings. Special discounts may also be available on hearing aids and other assistive devices.
Use this time to get information about speech and hearing problems. See an audiologist or speech pathologist if you suspect a problem or have put off needed help. Encourage others who might benefit from speech or hearing care to see a professional. Let one of the announcements, educational programs, screenings, or discounts provided during this month be the push that overcomes your inertia. If not now, the majority of audiologists and speech pathologists we will be back not only next year to support Better Hearing and Speech Month but will remain available to you throughout the time in between. Go ahead and fight the inertia, not only for yourself but for your loved ones. Also, have a nice summer!
John M. Burkey is the director of audiology at the Lippy Group for ENT in Warren, Ohio and author of The Hearing-Loss Guide: Useful Information and Advice for Patients and Families.