Tech Spot Update – ARIA Therapy

If your child has a condition known as amblyaudia — a disorder that prohibits the ability of the brain to process competing information from ear-to-ear — he or she might need a type of dichotic therapy known as ARIA therapy.

Amblyaudia is often diagnosed following a central auditory processing disorder (CAPD) evauation, which can reveal binaural integration weakness. This is when your child develops a dominant ear, which often suppresses incoming auditory information from the opposite ear. We often refer to this “weaker” ear as a “lazy ear.” ARIA therapy’s goal is to correct this imbalance.

ARIA therapy takes place over 4 weeks, in 4 one-hour sessions, and is performed by a licensed audiologist in a soundproof booth. After therapy, there is usually a fifth, follow-up evaluation session.

The Auditory Processing Center, located in Mississippi, agrees that treatment of amblyaudia is crucial for learning and developing children: “Following ARIA treatment children have better access to auditory signals, which will help them hear better, so they will have better access to the curriculum at school. If a child has amblyaudia, this should be treated first in order to make listening easier and maximize benefit from other types of therapy (i.e. dyslexia, speech/language therapy, or tutoring) that the child may also be receiving.”

ARIA therapy is an exciting process the audiologists at REM are proud to be able to offer our patients. Amblyaudia often goes undiagnosed, which is unfortunate, because this therapy can very well help your child become a more efficient listener, both in and outside the classroom.

For more information, please don’t hesitate to contact our front office, email Dr. Cory McNabb (our pediatric audiologist) directly, or check out our ARIA therapy page on our website. For more info about the actual therapy, be sure to check out this month’s newly updated Technology Spotlight.

Speech and Language Development

Speech and language development is every parent’s first concern. How your child receives, processes, and expresses information can be a huge determining factor affecting the rest of his or her life. This is one reason why hospitals give hearing tests to newborns, and why parents are encouraged to follow up with additional speech and language tests in the following couple of years.

Exposure

According to the the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), development peaks early: “The first 3 years of life, when the brain is developing and maturing, is the most intensive period for acquiring speech and language skills.”

So, during this time, expose your child to everything: sights, sounds, speech, any productive stimulation you can think of. Take note of what’s grabbing hold, and try to replicate any positive sight-and-sound environments. Developmental “…skills develop best in a world that is rich with sounds, sights, and consistent exposure to the speech and language of others.”

Speech and Language Disorders

Unfortunately, sometimes there are problems. So, what should you do if any issues present? Or how can you tell if there are issues in the first place?

Naturally this is a big topic, too big to cover in a single blog. But there are rough guidelines. The Mayo Clinic has a useful rundown by age, covering everything from speech sounds and simple word recognition (1st year), to imitation and actual speech (year 2).

If you notice anything wrong, or are worried about your child not hitting commonly accepted milestones, see your doctor! “Speech delays occur for many reasons, including hearing loss and developmental disorder,” the Mayo Clinic says, and you won’t know what can be done until you follow up.

Back to School with Hearing Loss

Summer is winding down and school is peeking out over the horizon. If you have hearing loss or communication difficulties, what can you do to prepare? Who can you talk to?

1. Talk to your child. Be transparent. If your child has hearing or language issues, reassure any anxieties they may have. Share as much info as you can about any assistive listening devices or speech therapy classes currently in place to help them learn and stay on course with their fellow students.

2. Get informed! See what services your school offers, and see what else could be offered. Talk to local audiologists and speech pathologists, maybe do some research online. Possibly, you can even give your local school board some ideas.

3. Be aware of your school’s IEPs (Individualized Education Programs) and 504 plans. These can offer “formal help for K-12 students with learning and attention issues.”

4. If your child has hearing loss, allow them to try unfamiliar things. Allow them to achieve and stumble. Ellie Parfitt, who is deaf, writes on the Hearing Like Me blog: “One thing that my parents have learned from having a deaf child, is that you should encourage them to make their own decisions, choose subjects they would like to study and make sure you encourage them to try new things.” This is good advice for anyone.

For more information, check out one of our blogs from last summer. Here, you’ll be able to find info about specific devices and ideas concerning your child’s educational development.

The Genetics of Hearing Loss

Can you inherit hearing loss? As you might expect, the answer is complicated.

Because of genetic mutations that can be passed from parent to child, certain individuals may be more pre-disposed to hearing difficulty than others. Hereditary hearing loss can be seen in everything from genetic abnormalities in inner ear sensory cells to specific disorders such as Usher syndrome, Pendred syndrome, and Otosclerosis.

In some cases, genetic hearing loss can appear in newborns. About 50% of all children’s hearing loss can be due to genetic influences. According to BabyHearing.org:

“In approximately 70% of cases of genetic hearing loss, the cause is autosomal recessive. About 12 babies per 10,000 have a recessive cause of their hearing loss. Congenital hearing loss (hearing loss present at birth) that is due to one of the many recessive genes is twice as common as Cystic Fibrosis, another recessive genetic condition.”

Hereditary hearing difficulty can also manifest later in life. Anyone can experience the symptoms and effects of hearing loss at any time.

The causes and permutations of hearing disorders are very complex, and not everyone will be able to — or feel the need to — have their genes sequenced to see what could potentially be passed down to their children. That said, it’s important to know that sometimes hearing loss simply can be explained by genetics, to the fault of no one involved. So, if you notice any hearing issues in you or your child, it’s important to get them checked out right away, even if you don’t fit into any high-risk groups.

Balance and Hearing Loss

Hearing and balance are two peas in a pod. Balance is intricately connected to the inner ear, and if you have balance issues, you might have hearing loss (and vice versa). If you notice symptoms of either, it’s always a good idea to talk to your primary care physician or audiologist.

Noticing Symptoms

Why go see an audiologist if you experience dizziness or loss of coordination with hearing loss? “Hearing and balance disorders are complex with medical, psychological, physical, social, educational, and employment implications.” It often takes an audiologist — well versed in the diagnosis and treatment of not only hearing loss, but also its associated physical manifestations — to figure out the best way forward.

It’s important to not waste any time if you notice any differences in your balance. A fall due to uneven equilibrium is never ideal, especially if you’re older. It can be frustrating, costly, and even permanently debilitating. A Johns Hopkins study showed that falls are increasing among senior citizens in the US. Researcher Elizabeth Burns, at the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, says that “Falls are the leading cause of both fatal and nonfatal injuries among adults aged 65 and older.”

How to Help Yourself

1. If you have a hearing loss and balance problems, hearing aids can usually help compensate for your balance issues.. The more you can hear your environment, the better you’re able to interact with the world around you.

2. Though it may seem to go without saying, keep your floor clear of any refuse or piles, don’t walk around in the dark, and don’t feel ashamed to walk with a cane or walker if you need one.

Regular Hearing Assessments

It is REM’s belief — one we share with patients in a readily available handout — that regular hearing assessments** could be just what you need to decrease the risk of falls, increase your longevity, and enjoy a better overall quality of life. Please reach out and call us or your doctor for more information.

**The purpose of this hearing assessment and/or demonstration is for hearing wellness to determine if the patient(s) may benefit from using hearing aids. Products demonstrated may differ from products sold. Test conclusion may not be a medical diagnosis. The use of any hearing aid may not fully restore normal hearing and does not prevent future hearing loss. Testing is to evaluate your hearing wellness, which may include selling and fitting hearing aids. Hearing instruments may not meet the needs of all hearing-impaired individuals.

Diet and Hearing Health

A healthy diet is an important part of hearing health. It’s easy to understand why – a healthy diet equals a healthy body, and when you eat all the right foods and get plenty of exercise, you age better, more naturally, and maybe even slower.

So, how does hearing specifically fit into all this?

Let’s start with minerals. Minerals in food are necessary nutrients the body needs, and there are a few that are crucial to help preserve good hearing. Potassium, folic acid, magnesium, and zinc are all important to help your hearing remain its best. Check out the linked article for more information, and start paying attention to what vitamins you’re regularly consuming. You might need to add some supplements if you’re lacking in any essentials (though talk to your doctor first).

As for overall health, a recent article on the CaptionCall website cites a study: “Over the last 26 years researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, part of Harvard Medical School in Boston, have been studying women’s diets and how it relates to hearing loss.” Results showed that those with better dietary habits had a 47 percent less likely chance to experience hearing loss later in life. “Researchers note that the main relation between healthy diet and hearing loss prevention is increased cardiovascular health. Healthy diets lead to an increase in blood flow and reducing inflammation.”

So, looking beyond diet, it might be safe to conclude that a healthier heart equals hardier hearing. “The connection between hearing health and cardiovascular health has led many professionals to believe the ear may be a window into the heart,” writes Beth McCormick, Au.D., in a Starkey blog.

The body works together in ways that the medical community is still figuring out, and different studies on diet and hearing will naturally have different conclusions. That said, a healthy body is always a good thing to strive for, right?

Healthy body, healthy heart, healthy mind, healthy hearing.

Summertime Hearing Tips

Every summer, we write about how to protect your hearing and your hearing aids while outdoors, in the heat, or on vacation. This year we decided to do something a little different. After a couple protection tips, we get into the benefits of summer, and how the season can help improve your hearing health.

How to Protect Your Hearing

1. Swimmer’s ear can often lead to ear infections, caused by trapped water in the ear canal. If you notice water in your ear that’s not going away on its own, use over-the-counter ear drops to reduce moisture. If you’re already experiencing pain or discharge, a visit to the doctor is recommended.

2. Summer months often mean vacation, air travel, and unfortunately, airplane ear. Also called barotitis media, airplane ear is ear pain and a stuffed-up feeling due to the change in air pressure during the plane’s ascent and descent. Yawning, blowing your nose, swallowing, or chewing gum can help.

3. Be aware of how loud summer activities are, and how little it can take to damage your hearing. Do yourself a favor and get a phone app that monitors the sound levels around you. Many are free. You can find more info on our previous blog, Surprising Levels of Everyday Sounds.

How to Protect Your Hearing Aids

1. Do not keep your hearing aids in direct heat or sunlight (e.g., dashboard in your car).

2. Use hearing aid dehumidifiers to reduce moisture damage.

3. If going to the beach, protect your aid by putting it in a ziplock bag with a desiccant. If applying suntan lotion, be sure any doesn’t get on your device.

4. Always open the battery door at night, especially when it’s hot and humid. Humidity can have a devastating effect on your hearing device.

How the Summer Can Help You Hear

Summer is a great time to socialize with others, and if you’re a regular reader of these blogs, you know what we’re about to say — socialization is brain training and a crucial part of maintaining hearing health and wellness.

Check out some hard of hearing community events. The Hearing Loss Association of America, for example, promotes accessible theater groups that use assistive listening devices — such as captioned performances — for the hard of hearing.

Most importantly, have fun! Use the time to learn about all the hearing aids and technology you might not know about. Take advantage of the nice weather to experiment with ideal sound environments. Enjoy the improved communication skills offered by today’s devices. All of this is in the best interest of your cognitive and emotional well-being.

Tech Spot Update: Phonak Roger™ Amplification Devices

Phonak’s Roger™ line of sound amplifiers are some of the most exciting assistive listening devices on the market today. Roger technology — with the help of a hearing aid — helps you listen in noise and is ideal for most classroom or workplace environments.

Take, for example, the Roger Table Mic II, which transmits sound from a 360 degree environment straight to your aid:

“Roger Table Mic II is a microphone dedicated for working adults who participate in various meetings. It selects the person who’s talking and switches automatically between the meeting participants. Multiple Roger Table Mic II can be connected to create a network, making it ideal for large meeting configurations. It can also transmit the sound of multimedia e.g. computer.”

The Roger Pen™ is a similar, but portable, device. Placed near the speaker or source of sound you want to hear, the pen transmits — just like the table microphone — to your hearing device. The Roger Pen is used more for single point-to-point purposes. It also has Bluetooth® capabilities and can connect to applicable computers or multimedia systems.

If all you need is an amplifier for a single conversation, the Roger Clip-On Mic might be just what you need. The clip-on utilizes a directional microphone that picks up sound and interfaces with your aid.

The most recent Roger device is the Roger Select™. Similar to the Roger Table Microphone, the Select is instead geared more towards personal use.

Phonak has a whole list of sound amplifiers, including TV connectors, touchscreen microphones, and wireless microphones specifically designed for teachers (the Roger inspiro™). All are well worth looking into.

Also, please don’t hesitate to check out REM’s monthly updated Technology Spotlight for more information about Phonak and other hearing device products.

 

What Services Do Audiologists Offer?

Deciding to get your hearing tested is a big move for a lot of people. Whether it’s at the urging of a primary care physician or something you decide to pursue yourself, choosing an audiologist often comes with a whole list of unknowns. You may find yourself asking what an audiologist does and what services they’ll provide during the course of your visits. Maybe you’re wondering if you even need to see one in the first place (if you’re having difficulty hearing then probably, yes).

After the decision to meet, you’ll first be given a medical history form. You may also be asked to fill out questionnaires regarding balance and tinnitus. Medication and its potential implications on balance and hearing problems will also be discussed.

After the history? The hearing test. For more information about what to expect from a hearing evaluation, please check out our recent blog.

Once the test is complete, you’ll sit down with the audiologist for the consultation, often based on your COSI (client oriented scale of improvement) — your personal improvement benchmarks. Discussing your results, you and your audiologist will go over personalized communication problems, word recognition tests (comparing hearing speech in noise with hearing aids vs. no aids), and customized treatment recommendations.

If the audiologist decides you’ll need a hearing aid, this is when you’ll begin to talk about specific models. You’ll discuss what you want out of your hearing aid experience, whether you’d like to interface with Bluetooth® technology, and how often you plan to use your aids out in social settings.

After you choose your aid, the audiologist will then monitor the device’s results using real ear measurements. He or she will want to be sure the aid is working to its specifications and your needs. You’ll often meet for follow-up appointments at regular intervals, usually every 6 to 12 months, for maintenance and cleanings.

Other services audiologists often provide are:

  1. Earwax removal
  2. Auditory processing testing (if you have problems comprehending speech even though there is no indication of peripheral hearing loss)
  3. Balance testing or referral for balance consultation

Audiologists are also there to help with your tinnitus needs and can offer advice for any hearing-related questions you may have.

Noisy Restaurants and Hearing Loss

If you have hearing loss, you know how difficult noisy restaurants can be. Conversations you might have no problem comprehending one-on-one suddenly become a huge challenge. Maybe you find yourself nodding along, hoping to grab a few words here and there.

Online, there is no shortage of advice on how to deal with hearing difficulties in restaurants. An article on Starkey’s website has tips ranging from seat position (if possible, sit with your back to the noise) to seat selection (if possible, choose a booth). Oticon.com, on the other hand, stresses that the atmosphere of the restaurant matters just as much as where you choose to sit: “In trendy ‘industrial chic’ restaurants, the steel, granite, tile and other hard surfaces amplified sound, raising readings to nearly 85 decibels and creating uncomfortably high sound reverberation.”

The American Academy of Audiology takes a different approach and recommends anyone concerned about restaurant noise install a noise meter on their phone. “These are sound level meters that run on your phone and in one case incorporates a reporting function so you can inform the world about the acoustics of a restaurant.”

Perhaps most important in the hearing loss/restaurant issue is the stigma you may feel comes attached to your hearing difficulty. This should not be the case. There is nothing wrong with suggesting a different restaurant or — if you’re already there — asking if they wouldn’t mind moving to a less noisy area. Simply letting people know up front about your concerns is rarely a bad idea.

For more tips or ideas, or if you want to know which hearing devices best work to help you comprehend speech in noise (such as the the Oticon Opn™ hearing aid), reach on out! We’ll be happy to tell you all we know.