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May Is “Speech & Hearing Month”

Hearing and communication are abilities most people take for granted. But, for a large segment of society, issues with either of these can have a profound effect on learning, self-confidence, employment, family and socialization.

Hearing and communication problems can manifest themselves in learning issues at school, interactions with family, and communications with colleagues in the workplace, among other things.

Public awareness campaigns launched every year in May, by Speech-Language and Audiology Canada (SAC), known as “Speech & Hearing Month” across Canada, are designed to bring awareness and recognition to these disorders, which can impact people from the very young to the elderly.

“Communication is critical in all aspects of life,” says Meredith Wright, SAC’s Director of Speech-Language Pathology. “Communication is a fundamental human right and people with communication difficulties should have access to communication supports when they need them. Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists can help identify communication and hearing disorders and work with those that are experiencing difficulties to find solutions.”

SAC works to highlight the importance of early detection and intervention in the treatment of communication disorders, as well as identifying the role that its members and associates play in helping people overcome and/or manage these disorders.

“We have developed ‘Speech & Hearing Month’ as annual public awareness campaigns to help create a greater understanding of the challenges surrounding these disorders,” explains Michaela Berniquez, Communications Specialist with SAC. “We offer content, tools and resources on our website: SpeechAndHearing.ca and we run an extensive social media campaign to highlight a variety of issues.”

Good hearing is critically important for everyone at all stages of life and in every kind of setting. The help of an Audiologist can improve hearing in most situations.

“There are times when people don’t notice hearing loss because it can occur gradually over a number of years,” states Lynda Gibbons, SAC’s Director of Audiology. “Many people initially have difficulty hearing while they are in a crowded room, for instance, where sounds can be muffled because of background noise.”

She adds: “It’s not until people notice the same hearing loss in family situations or small social gatherings that they realize there’s a problem and decide to seek help. Even in a classroom, there’s often a great deal of background noise and we are always advocating for good classroom acoustics to help children hear, which is a key component of learning.”

In promoting “Speech & Hearing Month,” SAC develops and distributes several new resources based on the topics for the month. For 2021, the topics of focus are Aphasia, Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss (SSNHL), the role of Speech-Language Pathologists (S-LPs) in schools, and communication health assistants. 

Aphasia hinders a person’s ability to speak, write and understand language, usually as a result of a stroke. SSNHL is the unexplained, rapid loss of hearing and it is crucial for those affected to seek immediate medical attention to prevent permanent hearing loss.

S-LPs are essential members of educational teams as they support students of all ages with speech, language and communication challenges to achieve their academic and personal potential.

SAC will also be sharing a “Living with Aphasia” interview series during the month, where video interviews with clients from the Aphasia Centre of Ottawa will be available.

These videos will be posted on: SpeechAndHearing.ca throughout May.

Wright and Gibbons both recommend that anyone dealing with these issues seek help immediately so they can begin to manage them with the help of a professional, either through the use of hearing devices, or therapies designed to address the problems.

“We take our lead from our clients in assessing their needs and helping alleviate their conditions,” says Wright.
In order to help its readers tackle these issues, Biz X magazine has spoken with a group of local Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists to help chart a path to better communications and hearing.

Hearing & Dizziness Clinic
After picking up an undergraduate degree in linguistics from the University of Ottawa, Bernice McKenzie was left with a career choice to make.

“Many of my fellow grads went into teaching, but I didn’t think that was for me and I started looking for something else,” McKenzie recounts. “I was aware of speech and language training, but knew nothing about audiology, however, it sounded interesting. I come from a family of nurses and I was sure that I wanted to help people, no matter what I did for a living.”

She enrolled at Wayne State University in Detroit, which offers a well-regarded Master of Science degree in audiology, and following graduation in 2006, she started work as an Audiologist, before opening Amherstburg Audiology in 2010.

After expanding to Essex a few years later, McKenzie changed the name to the Hearing & Dizziness Clinic and followed that up by adding a clinic in LaSalle.

Her clinics were closed after COVID-19 struck Ontario, a little over a year ago and then re-opened in May 2020 and have been open for clients ever since.

“It’s been a little crazy, but we’re doing the best we can for our clients by offering curbside drop-off and pickup services for people needing adjustments or repairs to their hearing aids,” McKenzie informs Biz X.

Their services include hearing evaluations for children and adults, treatment for tinnitus, speech therapy and treatment for vertigo.

“Vertigo is generally caused by problems with a person’s ears and it can be alleviated in many people in just a few weeks,” says McKenzie. “It’s a matter of teaching your brain to ignore bad signals, which are linked to dizziness and balance issues.”

McKenzie notes the therapy involved is similar to being at an airport and hearing planes constantly take off and land.
”Eventually your brain tunes the sounds out and ignores them,” she adds.

Other therapies offered by McKenzie involve aural rehabilitation, which conditions clients to filter out background sounds through a series of courses available on home computers.

“There are 11 lessons in one of the courses and 23 in another, so it depends upon how much a commitment clients are willing to make,” she explains. “But generally, you can notice a difference after 11 lessons.”

McKenzie is a member of the Canadian Association of Audiologists, Ontario Association of Professional Audiology Clinics, and Ontario Association of Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists.

The clinic, which has 11 employees, has locations at 1486 Front Road in LaSalle, 503 Sandwich Street South in Amherstburg, and 35 Victoria Avenue in Essex.

Sound Hearing Care
Tina Stafferton, Owner of Sound Hearing Care, has more than 20 years experience as an Audiologist after deciding she wanted to help people overcome their hearing issues.

“I’ve always had an affinity for older people, as well as children, and I like to think I have patience as well,” she mentions. “It’s been very rewarding to be able to help so many people over the years.”

Stafferton has a B.A. honours degree in psychology from the University of Windsor and a Master of Science degree in audiology from Wayne State University. She returned to Wayne State in 2006 for a Doctorate degree in audiology.
Stafferton worked for a number of organizations after graduation before opening her own clinic in 2010.

She finds many of her clients in Windsor face noise-induced hearing loss because of the number of manufacturing plants in the city.

“It’s difficult for many of them to avoid the excessive noise at work and it affects their hearing as they get older,” she points out. “I’m also seeing clients earlier in many cases partly because the use of masks during the pandemic is dampening decibel levels and preventing people from following conversations because they can’t read lips any longer.”

Stafferton says it is also difficult for children because visual cues, as well as hearing, are important parts of their learning experience. Children also suffer from middle-ear infections because their smaller Eustachian tubes don’t drain as well as they do in adults.

“It can result in intermittent difficulties with hearing, which can affect their ability to learn,” she adds.

In an attempt to help people overcome the stigma of wearing hearing aids, the industry has introduced new products including Bluetooth-style hearing aids and miniaturized aids, as well as aids in different colours.

“Many of the new ones enable the wearer to play music or answer the phone so that there’s much more connectivity to the world around them,” Stafferton indicates. “There are others that can provide wireless transmission from inside the television to inside the hearing aid, so that you can bypass all the ambient sound.”

These hearing aids allow the user to independently turn the sound down on the television so it doesn’t impact other people in the room.

“There are many more options available today to help people with hearing loss than there have been in the past,” Stafferton states.

Sound Hearing Care, which specializes in assistive hearing devices, has two locations — 13310 Lanoue Street in Tecumseh and a satellite office at 962 Old Tecumseh Road in Belle River’s Community Support Centre.