UMN, state pair up for hearing loss education

The collaboration, announced Thursday, will test hearing loss trainings at a handful of senior care facilities.

Helen Sabrowsky

John Wodele’s hearing loss went undiagnosed for nearly 15 years. His difficulty hearing impacted his everyday life and caused tension within his family, but doctors repeatedly told Wodele that he simply had too much earwax. 

Finally, a University of Minnesota specialist correctly diagnosed Wodele with a treatable condition called otosclerosis. This experience motivated Wodele to join the Commission of Deaf, DeafBlind and Hard of Hearing Minnesotans because he felt the medical community wasn’t doing enough to accommodate individuals with hearing loss.

The commission announced a collaboration with the University Thursday that will test a set of three modules designed to help home care workers better understand age-related hearing loss.

Each module contains a training video for healthcare workers. They cover four topics: What age-related hearing loss is, how to identify it, its health impacts and strategies and technologies families can use to communicate effectively, said Emory Dively, the commission’s deputy director.

Researchers hope the initiative will help caregivers appreciate the importance of hearing in people’s everyday lives and want to raise awareness around age-related hearing loss, Wodele said. 

“What we need to do is help people understand that if they seek help and are diagnosed that it’s possible that their hearing loss can be corrected or that they can find ways to relieve stress and other dynamics that surround not being able to hear,” he said.

The modules will be tested in a handful of senior care facilities statewide over the next several months, with a more comprehensive roll-out expected early next year, said Peggy Nelson, a Speech-Language-Hearing Sciences professor.

Additionally, the modules will be published on the University’s website, where the public can access them for free, Dively said. 

About two-thirds of people over 70 will suffer some degree of hearing loss, he said. 

While the population of people suffering from hearing loss is sizable, the group is underserved, Nelson said.  

When left untreated, Dively said, age-related hearing loss can contribute to negative health outcomes like dementia, hospitalization, depression, isolation and Alzheimer’s disease.