Hearing-loss grant will benefit many

In 1993 a National Institutes of Health panel recommended hearing tests for all newborn infants. In response, Minnesota, along with several other states, passed legislation to help hospitals develop screening programs. Unfortunately, the state did not back up its legislation with the appropriate funds, leaving hearing-loss testing a low priority for many institutions.
About two weeks ago, the Minnesota Lions Club rewarded a University program that screens newborns for hearing deficiencies with a large grant of $575,000. The grant will have a very positive effect on research and treatment for hearing loss in infants.
The money will be used for two primary purposes. The University will share portions of the grant with other institutions willing to develop the facilities necessary for screening and staff education. It costs about $15,000 for each location, a cost that has prevented many institutions from developing appropriate facilities. However, in the short time since the grant was announced, more than 40 institutions have already expressed interest in applying for the money. The remainder of the money will be used to help families purchase hearing aids for children found to have hearing loss.
Hearing loss can occur for numerous reasons. Serious infections, low birth weight or a difficult birth all can cause serious hearing loss in infants. It is often difficult for parents to determine if their child is suffering from hearing loss, though, because children can react to touch and sight. Professional screening is essentially the only way to determine if an infant has lost some of his or her hearing, particularly if the loss is not large or is a type that grows worse with time.
Currently only about 25 percent of Minnesota newborns are screened for hearing loss, which has caused many children to go untreated until they reach school age. By providing the screening while the infant is still at the hospital, the costs are significantly lower. Children who are diagnosed with hearing loss in infancy are able to begin treatment immediately and can minimize or even eliminate any detrimental effects to their development. If the problem is not detected until later, the costs, both in human and monetary terms, grow much larger. Robert Nemeth, chairman of the Lions Hearing Foundation, claims “the money that it would cost to catch a child up (after years of hearing problems) is astronomical and might not even help.”
In 1993, Minnesota’s Legislature began the process of early detection of hearing loss but did not go far enough. The grant from the Minnesota Lions Club will be highly beneficial to the entire state. Their generosity will help thousands of children and families detect hearing loss early enough to minimize problems and will also spur interest in expanding the availability of screening.