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ECU clinic tunes in to hearing, speech impaired

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Howard Smith sits as Sydney Polifrone, a first year audiology graduate student, places head phones over his ears to do a hearing test, at East Carolina Languange and Speech Hearing Clinic Friday, May 25, 2018.


By Michael Abramowitz
The Daily Reflector

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Pitt County residents concerned about hearing and speech impairment liked what they heard Friday at the ECU College of Allied Health Sciences’ Speech-Language and Hearing Clinic.

Parents with children, senior citizens and other adults were at the clinic to take advantage of speech and hearing screenings offered free to the community as part of Better Hearing and Speech Month. North Carolina-licensed audiologists and speech-language pathologists certified by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association supervised the screenings for both children and adults.

Audiologists specialize in preventing and assessing hearing and balance disorders and provide audiologic treatment, including hearing aids. Speech-language pathologists identify, assess, and treat speech and language problems, including swallowing disorders.

Manager Karen Tripp said the clinic recommends that patients have their hearing checked every year. Newborns have a required hearing test before leaving the hospital and school children get screened, but adults often fall under the radar, she said.

“Things change, and sometimes you don’t know that you’re missing out on until it’s pointed out to you,” Tripp said. “Primary care physicians should recommend hearing screenings to their patients and some do.”

Most adults do not notice hearing loss until later in life, said Lacey Curry, clinic coordinator with a doctorate in audiology. 

“A recent professional article correlated age-related hearing loss with dementia, linking isolation and withdrawal from loss of the quality of life people become accustomed to,” Curry said. “You withdraw from conversations because you don’t want to make people repeat themselves. That correlation alone is enough to urge people to have a hearing test. You need to keep your brain busy and correction could be possible through hearing aids.”

Younger adults face attacks on their hearing ability from a wide array of electronic devices funneling sound through ear buds, as well as from music concerts, traffic noise, lawn mowers, farm and industrial equipment, all of which have a cumulative effect on the nerve cells of the inner ear, Curry said.

Awareness about potential hearing damage has grown in the past decade, the experts said. This has led to a wider availability of protective devices, including ear plugs and sound-blocking headphones. Coupled with self-moderation and regular screenings, such devices could keep people hearing better longer, they said.

Will Eblin, a doctoral professional and ECU audiology program coordinator, calls audiology a “lower visibility” profession.

“There are some national efforts underway in the profession to promote our services, including one recent major step when ‘Welcome to Medicare’ packets recommended hearing evaluation for new Medicare recipients,” Eblin said. “The services are provided at no charge when recommended by a physician and considered medically necessary, including if a person notices a change in their hearing ability.”

Speech-language clinic coordinator Lori Kincannon and her staff works with children to improve language and literacy skills and provide therapy for articulation disorders.

“You have to engage children enthusiastically to get them motivated so we can evaluate them properly,” Kincannon said. “They learn how to communicate through play.”

Shannon Moffitt, a first-year ECU audiology doctoral program student, and Julie Paulson, a first-year master’s student in speech-language, were at the clinic to gain patient evaluation experience. Moffitt’s professional calling was a natural fit.

“My grandfather has been deaf since he was three years old. He received a cochlear implant in 1995 to give him hearing ability and I was the first baby born in the family that he heard cry,” she said. “I just love ECU’s program and technology, coupled with the available practical opportunities for working with Army veterans and older populations.”

Paulson’s interest in children’s education led her to meet a school speech pathologist who inspired her to realize her calling to a more specialized approach to helping children.

“ECU has great educational opportunities and I was interested in doing my graduate studies out of state,” the Cleveland, Ohio native said. “I’d like to pursue my career in oral rehabilitation and work on a cochlear implant team, helping formerly deaf people improve their communication skills and relearn speech.”

People concerned about hearing loss should discuss their concerns with their primary care physician, the clinic experts said. For more information about the services available at ECU’s Speech-Language and Hearing Clinic, people can visit online at  www.ecu.edu/cs-dhs/csd/clinic/ or call 744-6104 for guidance.

Contact Michael Abramowitz at mabramowitz@reflector.com or 252-329-9507.


According to information at the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association website, one in five (20 percent) Americans have hearing loss in at least one ear. 

■ About 26 million Americans between ages 20–69 have high frequency hearing loss due to exposure to loud noises. Another 20 percent of teens ages 12-19 have reported hearing loss due to loud noise and about 33 percent of Americans between ages 65-74 and nearly 50 percent of those 75 and older have hearing loss. More than 30 million U.S. workers are exposed to hazardous noise levels.

■ About 40 million Americans have communication disorders, costing the U.S. approximately $154–186 billion annually, according to the ASHA professionals.