Those with hearing loss may often feel isolated, particularly in rural areas where resources may not be readily available. The N.D. School for the Deaf/ Resource Center for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Adult Outreach Services reach all North Dakotans with hearing loss.
“Help is available. They’re not alone in this,” said Dawn Sauvageau, an adult outreach hearing specialist with the Center. The N.D. School for the Deaf (NDSD)/Resource Center for Deaf and Hard of Hearing’s Adult Outreach works with anyone 18 years of age and older who is either deaf or has a hearing loss.
In 2009, the N.D. Legislature mandated that the School for the Deaf expand its services to all ages. Established in 1890, the school had previously served children from birth through high school graduation or age 21, explained Pam Smith, the program coordinator.
“That was a huge expansion in the mission of our agency,” Smith said.
Five adult hearing outreach specialists are now based in Devils Lake, Grand Forks and Fargo, but they cover the entire state. Services are available at no charge.
“Hearing loss in adults is due to a variety of factors,” Sauvageau said.
“The two most common causes of hearing loss are aging and noise-induced hearing loss, and often we’ll see a combination of the two,” she said. “Typically, you will start to notice that hearing loss when a person enters their 60s. We’re seeing a lot of farmers who have some hearing loss earlier because of working in conditions with heavy machinery and not wearing hearing protection.”
Oilfield workers, hunters and veterans are also prone to hearing loss at an earlier age, Smith pointed out. A projected 86,000 adults in North Dakota have a significant hearing loss. One in five Americans have a hearing loss, and one in three are 65 and older.
Hearing loss can also be related to a variety of medical conditions, including tumors, ear wax buildup, high blood pressure, diabetes or thyroid conditions. Certain medications also cause hearing loss. The most common medications causing hearing loss are those for chemotherapy; 50 percent of patients receiving chemotherapy may experience some hearing loss after receiving treatment, Sauvageau said. Medication-related hearing loss usually reverses once the medication is stopped.
Hearing loss can start gradually, and may even initially go unnoticed.
“Most often, it’s your family members who notice it before you do. It is such a slow and steady loss, that we just constantly adjust to it. We don’t even realize it, until people are saying, ‘Gosh, you’ve asked me to repeat that five times!’ ” Sauvageau said.
The first step for those with hearing loss is to see an audiologist, who can identify the cause of the hearing loss and help decide what type of hearing aid or personal listening device is appropriate.
Patients are often referred to the NDSD/Resource Center for Deaf and Hard of Hearing, or individuals can contact the Center directly to access a variety of services.
One of those services is a home assessment to address safety concerns associated with hearing loss. Can they hear the smoke alarm at night? Can they hear the telephone ring, or someone knock at the door? A home assessment is conducted, then recommendations for equipment are made.
Those with the Adult Outreach Services work closely with North Dakota Assistive to provide assistive devices for eligible adults. Some of those devices may be smoke alarm detectors, doorbell flashers, personal listening devices or personal alert systems. Talking on a telephone is often difficult for those with hearing loss, so amplified phones or phones with a screen that shows what’s being said, may be obtained through the N.D. TEDS (Telephone Equipment Distribution) Program.
“Our goal is to help keep older adults as independent as possible for as long as possible, but it needs to be done safely,” Sauvageau said.
The Resource Center also hosts monthly resource/support groups in Wahpeton, Valley City, Fargo-Moorhead, Minot, Bismarck and Devils Lake, where information is shared on topics related to hearing loss.
“They walk away with a lot of good information,” Sauvageau said. During one of those recent group meetings, concerns were shared with those with hearing loss who may be targeted in phone scams.
The NDSD/Resource Center also works with law enforcement agencies, social services personnel and medical personnel to educate them on how to work with those with hearing loss.
“We provide services statewide. We will travel to the farthest corner to meet with someone,” Smith said.
The largest obstacle in the state for those with hearing loss is the purchase of hearing aids, which can often cost thousands of dollars.
“There are limited financial resources for the purchase of hearing aids at this time,” Smith said. Veterans and children may have some of the costs covered through the VA, Medicare, Medicaid or insurance, Smith said.
The Center wants to hear from individuals or family members of those who have a hearing loss.
“There’s a lot of assistive technology that could be life-changing for them,” Smith said. “They should never hesitate to call!”
The center’s main office can be reached at 701-665-4401 or 800-887-2980. To learn more, visit www.nd.gov/ndsd(link is external).
Luann Dart is a freelance writer and editor who lives in the Elgin area.
Providing services at the Resource Center for Deaf and Hard of Hearing for adult outreach are Tracy Vilandre, Pam Smith, Kathy Frelich, Kristen Vetter and Dawn Sauvageau.