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July 5, 2006

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Dynasty actress highlights issues facing deafblind

July 1, 2006

This is Deafblind week and former Dynasty actress Stephanie Beacham has been interviewed on Breakfast TV about her own partial hearing loss and the role she fills as spokeswoman for SENSE, the organisation for people who are both deaf and blind.

Comparatively few people suffer complete loss of sight and hearing, but Stephanie pointed out that even a small loss of both senses can have a devastating effect on the quality of life, and things are bound to get worse as people live longer.Her own father was both deaf and blind when he died at the age of 91.

Stephanie said older folk suffer acute embarrassment when one or both senses decline, and hate having to make repeated requests such as: “What was that dear?” “Don’t leave them out”, Stephanie warned. “Practise block writing by capital letters on their palms and make your presence known by touch and clear, direct speech. Many deafblind people have enough sight to make out big writing on white paper … so be patient and make the effort.”

l Last Saturday Evelyn and I had lunch at Hillmount Garden Centre in Belfast with Thamara Menrovich and her helper, a deaf woman from Israel. Thamara was born deaf in Alta Gracia, Argentina, and lost her sight from a condition called ‘usher’ when she was a girl of nine. Usher causes a gradual narrowing of the field of sight and often leads to near or total blindness.

She now lives in Tel Aviv, Israel, and is married to a deaf man with two normal children of her own.
Even with my years of experience I was at a loss trying to talk with Thamara and had to depend on her guide and helper for communication.

I know how to finger-spell to the deaf blind in this country, but Thamara’s native language is Hebrew and I could only watch in admiration as my questions were passed on by Touch Signs, a specialised form of sign language in which the interpreter communicates entirely by holding the hands of the deafblind person and guiding them in various directions. A deaf group from Belfast put them in touch with us as Thamara is involved in training guide dogs for the deafblind in Tel Aviv and we have a hearing dog for deaf people.

Buddy is trained to alert us to sounds such as the phone, doorbell and fire-alarm and is a much loved member of the family … but Tamara has a dog for deafblind people and is the only person out of 1,100 with such a dog to help her be independent. Also, she is the only one in Israel who trains dogs for deaf people. Wow!

Thamara showed us the certificates she has gained to qualify as a trainer and we saw a DVD of the work she is doing in her home town. Like most deafblind people her life had been severely curtailed and it was wonderful to see her up and about with her own dog and even making trips alone by bus to the shops.

The dog guides her onto the bus and the driver follows the written directions she shows him.
Her two girls came over as cheerful and well-adjusted teenagers of 17 and 14 who said on the DVD that their mother was their best friend.

I asked Thamara if there had not been moments of tension when the girls rebelled against the responsibility of caring for their doubly handicapped mother during their formative years. She told me that she and their father were aware of this danger and tried to make sure the girls had as happy and carefree a childhood as possible. You can contact Thamara at the Hope Project, PO Box 32196, Jerusalem 91000, Israel. Her email is t_t_hope@yahoo.com. The fax is 0972 353 45658.

By Bob McCullough 30 June 2006

Deafness can’t keep Sloat off the field

June 30, 2006

Isaac Sloat recently completed his senior season with the Green Bay Southwest High School lacrosse team. He was a two-year starter and was a team captain, a do-anything type of player coaches love.

Ask those who know him, and they’ll tell you how intelligent he is. About how he was accepted to Boston University but couldn’t go because it was too expensive.

Sloat hasn’t heard any of that praise. He’s deaf.

He’s grown up in a world full of images that have no sound, and sometimes that bothers him and his parents.

“It’s like a death,” said Kendall Kissel-Sloat, Isaac’s mother. “You have to go through a mourning and a grieving and a letting-go, because you don’t realize that you already have expectations. You have to come face to face with all of those expectations that you didn’t know you had, and you have to let them go. And then you have to start over.”

Six months after Isaac was born, his parents, Brian and Kendall, felt something was wrong. They took their first-born to the doctors and expressed their concerns.

The Sloats were told everything was fine and that they were imagining things, that Isaac’s ear canals were small and were blocked with wax.

After a short while, the Sloats knew better. They had Isaac tested more thoroughly. They were told he’d been born deaf.

That shouldn’t have come as a complete surprise. Brian and Kendall both have hearing problems. Brian can’t hear high tones well, and Kendall has tinnitus, or a ringing in the ears.

“He had us fooled for a little bit,” said Brian, who since has been divorced from Kendall. “We both found it difficult to deal with. It was, ‘Why is this happening?’ After a while, we came to the conclusion that it was put to us because we could probably deal with it.”

That doesn’t mean it was easy. Never was. Never has been. Never will be.

“At first, I was bullied a little bit,” Isaac said via e-mail. “But eventually the others would leave me alone. That was in middle school. In high school, most of my peers treated me like they would anybody else, aside from the whole different mediums of communication thing.”

There have been plenty of times when Isaac asks, ‘Why me?’

Although he had an interpreter at his side every day at school, it was difficult to deal with his inability to communicate with teachers and friends like the other students did.

“I think that he deals with being deaf very well,” Kendall said. “Does he have anger? I do think he has a lot of anger. I think he will have to work through that as he grows older.”

The Isaac that arrived at Southwest, however, isn’t the same Isaac that left it. Not as a player or as a person.

Isaac was introduced to lacrosse in gym class and loved it. When he and a friend heard a team was forming at Southwest, they jumped at the chance to join.

During his sophomore season, Isaac saw significant playing time as an attacker. His teammates developed arm signals as a way to alert him to a play call or a change on the field during a match. He always had his eyes open to everything around him and constantly was on the move in order to anticipate shifts in the offense. He also had an interpreter on the sidelines — many times it was his father — to help him.

“He probably missed out on some of the camaraderie and joking around that other guys took part in,” Southwest coach John Lombardi said. “But, you know, that’s his life.

“He wanted to be one of the guys. We came to accept him. It became normal for us.”

Like other first-time players, Isaac wasn’t good when he started. He barely could catch and throw. But he was a hard worker, and he quickly improved.

A year ago, he earned a starting job as a junior. This year, he earned honorable mention on the all-Bay-Valley Conference team.

“He was the only senior on the attack this year,” Lombardi said. “He had some big games and some big goals.”

Perhaps more importantly, Brian and Kendall say they’ve noticed a difference in their son’s confidence over the past three years.

“He needed teamwork, and he needed socializations that often deaf people don’t have,” Kendall said. “His self-esteem is better. He is more compassionate now. He had to learn how to work with other kids and a team.”

Although he is done with high school, Isaac plans to continue his lacrosse career. He will take a year off from school, then hopes to go to a liberal arts college to major in English.

“If the college I go to doesn’t have a team or a club,” Isaac said, “I am going to start one there.”

There are plenty of obstacles ahead in Isaac’s life, and Kendall worries about him at times, but the family is confident he will be fine.

“It was difficult, but all in all, we did a pretty good job,” Brian said. “He is a healthy, intelligent young man who has a lot to give to a lot of people.”

By Scott Venci, June 29, 2006

Volunteers being sought for research on hearing

June 29, 2006

Volunteers with normal hearing are sought by researchers at Albany Medical Center to gain a better understanding of tinnitus, or “ringing in the ears,” a chronic and often painful condition that affects 5 to 15 percent of the population.

The trial, conducted by Anthony Cacace, associate professor in the Neurosciences Institute at Albany Med, requires subjects with normal hearing (no ringing in the ears) between 50 and 90 years old who have no metal implants in their bodies.

Participants will be included in a clinical trial that uses magnetic resonance technology to measure chemicals in the brain’s hearing center, and how they might affect noise-induced tinnitus inpatients.

Participants will need to complete a questionnaire and undergo a hearing test and an MRI. Subjects will be paid for their time.

For more information, call the institute at 262-0800.

Source: Times Union.com, 28 June 2006

Discovery of key protein may help prevent hearing loss

June 29, 2006

A protein identified in the ear may play a key role in converting sounds into nerve signals, say researchers. They speculate that regulating levels of this protein might one day help to protect against hearing loss associated with ageing.

Roughly 15% of American adults report some degree of hearing loss, and the condition is more prevalent among the elderly. Affected individuals have relatively few treatment options and must often rely on battery-operated hearing aids to amplify sounds.

Some people have serious hearing problems due to genetic disorders, such as type 1 Usher syndrome. Those affected by this illness are born deaf and typically also lose their sight by late adolescence.

Approximately 3% to 6% of deaf US children are thought to suffer from Usher syndrome. Experts have succeeded in linking specific gene mutations to the disorder. But because the illness has multiple symptoms, they do not know for sure which proteins affected by these mutations influence hearing loss.

Key player
An international team of researchers have now identified the protein protocadherin-15 – which is mutated in Usher syndrome – as a potential key player in hearing after finding it in ear tissue samples from mice and chickens.

The team analysed the protein content of the samples using a technique called mass spectrometry peptide sequencing. Among other proteins in the sample, they detected protocadherin-15, which had previously been described in eye cells, but not ear cells.

The genetic sequence of the protein from the animals closely matched that of protocadherin-15 in humans. Further tests, using antibody molecules that bind to protocadherin-15, revealed that the protein was concentrated on the ends of special filaments that appear to help the ear translate sound waves into nerve impulses.

Tiny hairs
When a sound reaches the ear, it causes tiny hairs suspended in the fluid of the inner ear to move. Each of these hair cells holds roughly 150 to 300 even tinier branches. Movement from sound waves somehow causes membrane channels on the branches to open, allowing positively charged ions such as calcium and potassium to flow inside. This sets off an electrical impulse that travels to the brain.

The filaments that contain protocadherin-15 also attach pairs of these branches together, and appear to coordinate the opening of such channels. Scientists say that loud noises can destroy these filaments and suspect that protocadherin-15 may be degraded in these conditions.The protein might also get degraded over time as a result of ageing, and perhaps to varying degrees among individuals.

Gentle ears
“Maybe there is a genetic propensity for tough ears or gentle ears,” suggests Thomas Friedman at the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders in Bethesda, Maryland, and co-author of the study.

He speculates that if protocadherin-15 proves as important as experts suspect, someday scientists may devise a genetic test to see whether certain people produce a less stable form of this protein and thus have “gentle” ears prone to hearing loss.

Other members of the team hint that in the future drugs may prevent the degradation of protocadherin-15 and thereby help to preserve hearing as people age. And they add that gene therapy might one day enable those with Usher syndrome to hear.

Journal reference: The Journal of Neuroscience (DOI: 10.1523/jneurosci.1163-06.2006)

By: Roxanne Khamsi , NewScientist.com news service

Hearing Aid Advances – High-tech solutions restore loss

June 28, 2006

Hearing is one of the most relied-upon of the five senses. But when it starts to fade, life can go on normally thanks to sophisticated new hearing aids and surgical procedures that can restore much — if not all — of what was lost.

Sitting in an audiology clinic near Riverside Community Hospital, Ione Farmer, 90, tried on a state-of-the-art digital hearing aid for size. The Riverside woman had been experiencing feedback from her own hearing aids, one in each ear. The whistling was hard to tune out without lowering the volume so much she couldn’t hear.

“This has been a real challenge because of her degree of hearing loss,” said audiologist Floyd E. Milner. “But this device has anti-feedback circuitry.” Cracking a smile, Farmer seemed pleased by what she heard – or didn’t hear. “I can’t even tell it’s in …there’s no squealing,” she said about the device which features the latest open-fitting design.

Worn behind the ear, the aid was barely visible when covered by hair, with just a clear thin tube running into the ear canal. It’s much more comfortable than her current aids.

Nancy A. Muller, 59, of Winchester, benefits from a more extreme technological innovation: a bone conduction implant performed last year at Loma Linda University Medical Center to treat deafness in her left ear.

The implant works by transferring sound via microphones from her deaf side through her skull bone to her good ear. The device consists of a titanium implant, an external connecting post and a detachable sound processor. “It’s just like stereo. It’s incredible,” she said. “I hook it onto the screw, turn it on and I’m in business. It picks up everything on the left.”

Common Condition of Aging About 28 million Americans like Farmer and Muller suffer from hearing loss. One-third of adults older than age 60 and up to half age 75 or older are hard of hearing, according to Dr. John W. House, president of the House Ear Institute in Los Angeles.

What’s more, hearing loss is the nation’s most common birth defect. One in every 1,000 babies is born profoundly deaf, while two or three in 1,000 newborns has partial hearing loss. Normally the visible outer ear collects and directs sound waves from the environment via an external canal to the middle ear. There the eardrum and three tiny bones called ossicles amplify vibrations, which ripple through fluid in the spiral inner ear, or cochlea.

This sets off an electrical response in tiny sensory hair cells. The signal travels from the hearing nerve to the brain, which interprets it as sound. Much, however, can go wrong along the way. For example, the cochlea’s hair cells may break or bend — or the cells themselves may degenerate, a condition called sensorineural hearing loss, or nerve deafness, said House.

“About 90 percent of age-related hearing loss — called presbycusis — stems from nerve damage,” House said. Causes include injuries, illness, heredity, natural aging or ototoxic drugs used to treat life-threatening illnesses, and even overuse of common acetaminophen or Vicodin, he said.
Regular exposure to loud noises such as gas-powered gardening equipment, firearms, motorcycles and loud music can damage hearing.

Affecting about 10 percent of patients, conductive hearing loss stems from an interruption in the path sound travels through the middle ear, said House. Causes can be wax or fluid buildup, a perforated eardrum or bone abnormalities. Some people, moreover, have a combination of conditions.
Hearing loss can occur suddenly or progress slowly . It can affect both ears or just one.
Muller lost hearing in her left ear more than 20 years ago from an injury to her auditory nerve — a complication of surgery to correct chronic dizziness.

“I was free of vertigo but I lost half my hearing,” Muller said. “It was chancy surgery and an OK tradeoff. But it changed my lifestyle a lot.” She wore various hearing aids, including a device with a microphone on her left ear that transmitted sound to the good right ear. “But it sounded tinny and distorted,” she said. “Eventually I totally gave up on hearing aids until I had the bone conduction implant.”

Available in the United States since 1996 for conductive and mixed hearing loss, the procedure was approved in 2002 by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for single-sided deafness, which affects an estimated 60,000 Americans each year.

Often the first sign of trouble is a perception everyone around you is mumbling or complaints from family members that the TV is blaring. In addition to difficulty making out high-pitched tones or spoken words against background noise, other symptoms may include a hissing, ringing or buzzing in the ears — a condition called tinnitus.

Many people avoid getting their hearing tested out of embarrassment. But a basic ear exam may reveal easily treatable conditions such as wax buildup or fluid in the middle ear. Sophisticated Options As Farmer learned, the latest hearing aids are significantly better and more flattering cosmetically than those even a decade ago.

“The open-ear designs that just came on the market are exciting breakthroughs,” House said “These allow ‘multiple listening situations,’ or programs pre-set by an audiologist,” he said. Users can switch from program to program to accommodate a noisy restaurant or quiet music.

Other assistive listening devices use infrared to broadcast amplified signals. These include phones, alerting systems for smoke detectors, doorbells and alarm clocks. If impairment is too severe for a hearing aid, a patient may qualify for a cochlear implant.

Developed at the House Ear Institute, the cochlear implant is an electronic device that bypasses damaged hair cells and stimulates the hearing nerve directly. It provides useful hearing and improved communication abilities.

“Some do really well and others not so well depending on the cause and other factors,” House said. “But about 80 percent of cochlear implant patients can today talk on the phone.” According to House, the procedure is a safe, reliable and effective treatment for severe-to-profound hearing loss in adults and profound hearing loss in children. Muller recalled that before her bone conduction implant it was hard to tell what direction sounds came from, even at home.

By MIKE SCHWARTZThe Press-Enterprise

Couple Says Dr. Mistake Caused Wife’s Hearing Loss

June 25, 2006

A Dallas woman checked into a local hospital for a routine treatment and says a doctor’s mistake left her with a permanent disability. The surprise came when she tried to get help from lawyers, who told her that because of Texas law there was nothing they could do.

Sue Gonzales looks perfectly healthy, but everything around her is silent.“I feel sad. I cannot hear and people talk to me. My friends, they no come see me anymore,” Sue said.Sue’s husband Daniel says the damage was caused by medication.

“The Ciproflex kills the nerve in the ear, so the one ear is completely gone, the other one is 70 to 80 percent gone.”Daniel says his wife was given the antibiotic via IV, to help with a case of diarrhea. Little did the couple know the antibiotic had a dangerous side effect.According to Daniel, “The doctor turned around and looked at the IV’s they were giving her and said, this is what’s causing it right here, so he says I’ll tell them to take it off.”But the Gonzales’s say the IV was never removed and caused permanent damage to Sue’s ears.

The first attorney the couple went to said, the state had basically put him out of the malpractice business, and he doesn’t do those type cases anymore.In 2003, Texas voted in favor of Proposition 12. Backers of the proposal said it would prevent frivolous lawsuits, by limiting pain and suffering amounts in malpractice cases to $250,000.

“Therefore at $250,000 it is not economically viable for the lawyer, or the client, to pursue it,” says David R. Norton, Morgan & Weisbrod, LLP. “Many law firms have gotten out of the medical malpractice business totally.”

Norton says limits are being put on malpractice lawsuits around the country even though more than 100,000 people die in America because of hospital negligence.“Now that would be the same as if everyday of the year two commercial airline jets were colliding in mid-air, in the skies over America, and people were dying,” Norton said.

“I knew that they had changed the law and I was displeased when it happened, but I didn’t expect it to come and bite me in my behind but that’s what it did,” Daniel said.Today a simple task, like talking on the phone, is no longer an option for Sue Gonzales and she believes, because of Texas laws, neither is a lawsuit.

Source: http://cbs11tv.com/health/local_story_174223515.html

Ringing sound in ears is fairly common tinnitus

June 24, 2006

Dear Dr. Sangani:
I worked in a beauty salon for several years with lots of noise, hair dryers, phones ringing, etc. It closed after the hurricane and since then I’ve noticed my ears keep ringing even though my environment has quieted down. How should I proceed with this in the medical field?
– Ringing In Ears
Dear Ringing In Ears:
The condition you are describing is called tinnitus in medical terminology. Please do not get scared as it is not an uncommon condition, and most of the time non-damaging. Now let us understand the term in detail.
Q: What is tinnitus?
A: Tinnitus is the name for the noise or ringing in the ears that many experience. As many as 50 million people in the United States may experience this. It can be perceived as being within one or both ears, within or around the head or an outside distant noise. The sound may be a buzzing, a ringing or a hissing noise. Tinnitus can be either constant or intermittent. When the ringing is constant it can be distracting and can severely affect and interfere with your normal daily activities.
Q: What causes tinnitus?
A: Most tinnitus comes from damage to the microscopic endings of the hearing nerve in the inner ear. If you are older, advancing age is generally accompanied by a certain amount of hearing loss and tinnitus. The term for this is Presbycusis. If you are younger, exposure to loud noise is probably the leading cause of tinnitus.
Some causes may be as simple as a small plug of wax in the ear canal. A condition known as Otosclerosis, which damages the middle ear bones, may cause hearing loss and tinnitus. Other causes include allergies, circulation problems such as high or low blood pressure, or disorders of the vessels in your neck (the carotid system), tumor, diabetes, thyroid problems, injury to the head or neck, and a variety of medications may also cause symptoms (ototoxicity). Any sudden lose of hearing or sudden tinnitus requires immediate medical attention and evaluation.
Q: What testing will I need to evaluate my tinnitus?
A: It is important to see your primary care provider or you may see an otolaryngologist who specializes in hearing disorders and tinnitus. Depending on your symptoms and possible causes of your tinnitus an initial battery of tests are usually done to evaluate the cause. A hearing evaluation (audiogram) can be the first step. Other diagnostic testing includes vascular testing such as carotid ultrasound if a circulation problem is suspected, lab testing, balance testing, or sometimes CT scanning or MRI is requested to rule out tumors or central nervous system abnormalities.
Q: Are there any treatment options for tinnitus?
A: Treatment options can be discussed in full detail with your otolaryngologist depending on the cause of your tinnitus. Hearing aids are sometimes prescribed for hearing loss. Patients with hearing loss caused by damage to the middle ear bones may require surgery to correct the deficit. Tinnitus may be reversible after stopping certain medications. Tinnitus caused from circulation problems may require further evaluation by a cardiologist or a doctor specializing in vascular disorders.
Q: Is there anything I can do to cope with my tinnitus?
A: You can start by avoiding exposure to loud sounds and noises. Get regular blood pressure checks and if elevated see your doctor. Decrease your intake of salt. Salt can impair your circulation. Avoid stimulants such as tobacco, coffee, and cola. You can also practice relaxation methods. Exercise and get adequate rest. Masking is a term used to mask the tinnitus by using a competing sound such as a ticking clock or radio static that may mask the noise and make it less noticeable. Some products to generate noise may be available. Thus it is important to see your doctor before any treatment options are started to have a thorough evaluation.
Submit questions to Dr. Bharat Sangani at bsangani@encore.bz or 5601 Sound Bluff Road, Ocean Springs, MS 39564. Sangani also would like to hear from physicians interested in contributing to this column.

Source: http://www.sunherald.com/mld/thesunherald/living/14882832.htm

Genetic Screening at Birth Can Identify Hearing Loss

May 29, 2006

Widespread screening for newborn hearing loss has become routine in many countries over the past decade. Writing in the New England Journal of Medicine [May 18th], William Nance of Virginia Commonwealth University says the spread of such programs throughout the world has produced a revolution in health care. “The whole premise behind newborn hearing screening is that there is a critical period during the development of an infant when, if they do not develop language, they will never be able to develop it to their full potential.”

Despite its success, screening could be improved, Nance writes. He calls for quicker results, better recognition of infants at risk for delayed onset of hearing loss, more focus on the causes of hearing loss and a new battery of genetic tests. “The molecular tests on newborn blood spots would identify the most common genetic cause of deafness at birth, the most common genetic cause of late onset hearing loss, the most common environmental cause for hearing loss at birth and later in infancy, and the most common preventable form of hearing loss.”

For example, Nance says, a genetic test could detect an extreme sensitivity to a common antibiotic used in newborns that in rare instances can cause deafness. “If you simply identify individuals who have this gene for sensitivity and don’t give them this antibiotic, you can prevent them from ever being deaf in the first place.”

Nance says 50 to 60 percent of childhood hearing loss in developed countries is due to genetic factors. He says detecting the problem early and making accommodations for it can improve success in school and in life.

By: Rosanne Skirble Washington DC, 28 May 2006

Survey reveals raw deal for deaf in workplace

May 24, 2006
EFFORTS to end discrimination in the job market are not going far enough for sufferers of an “invisible” disability.

New figures from a Royal National Institute for the Deaf (RNID) survey show thousands of people who are deaf or hearing-impaired still face difficulty in getting a job and can struggle once they find a post.

As Deaf Awareness Week starts today the charity says the nine million people in the UK who are hard of hearing are a valuable untapped labour resource.

RNID claims difficulties ranging from the attitudes of potential employers to a lack of deaf awareness lead to serious barriers for deaf people seeking work.More than half of those suffering from hearing difficulties who were surveyed by the RNID said employers had a negative attitude towards deaf people and, of those in employment, a similar number believed this issue had hampered their career progress, while a third of respondents said their work did not make full use of their qualifications.
For a quarter of those surveyed, deafness made it difficult to communicate with work colleagues, while 55 per cent reported feeling isolated at work. Three-quarters felt the situation would improve if their boss provided deafness awareness training to staff, yet almost half of employers did not provide any such training.

Linda Curran, 53, the next mayor of Richmond, has suffered hearing difficulties for 23 years, losing 50 per cent of her hearing in each ear. When the former civil servant changed jobs Mrs Curran followed previous colleagues’ advice and told people about her hearing impairment. She said self-confidence is the most important quality to have and people should not worry about being embarrassed.
“It’s one of the hardest disabilities to recognise because how do you know someone doesn’t hear well?” she said. “People can think it’s your mental ability to understand that’s affected, rather than your ability to hear. “It can be very frustrating – I’ve said to people, ‘I’m deaf, not daft’.”

Mrs Curran, who is a town and district councillor, wears a hearing aid and with her guidance both councils have made their meetings more accessible to deaf people, with microphones and hearing aid loops. At her investiture as mayor, she hopes to have a video screen with subtitles so the whole audience can follow the ceremony.

Cheryl Cullen, director of RNID’s employment training and skills service, said: “Every deaf and hard-of-hearing person is capable of working with the right support.”

By: Julie Hemmings, Yorkshire Post