Treasure Coast organization educating children about the dangers of hearing loss

JENSEN BEACH, Fla. - A recent study found a higher prevalence of hearing loss among young people than in previous years.

Nearly one in five children ages 12 to 19 have experienced some hearing loss, according to the Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.

Many experts believe the range of frequency that's been diminished among young people may be due to wearing headphones.

The Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services of the Treasure Coast conducts educational programs for children at local schools.  Program Coordinator Evelyn Vazquez gets their attention with American Sign Language, singing and a dummy nicknamed "TODD," which stands for "Turn Off Dangerous Decibels."

"TODD" has microphones in his ears and a decibel counter in his back.  Vazquez turns up the music, which are pumped through the headphones worn by the dummy, to a volume at which others nearby can hear the music too.  It simulates the experience many parents have when they can hear the music through their child's headphones.

The decibel counter flips between 96, 98, then 105 as the song beats away. On the decibel scale, that's like the dummy is listening to a tractor or a mower. 

"At 85 decibels, you can go eight hours. But when you go three points up, or six, it cuts it to 45 minutes," she explains.  That progression continues as it goes up the scale. The higher the number, the fewer the minutes.

Too long and too loud can permanently hurt the delicate inner parts of the ear, which can turn into hearing loss.

Clayton Lawson volunteers with the organization. He went deaf when he was just a newborn, after getting a very high fever.  He says while he's a confident and happy, it's also difficult for people to recognize the challenges and differences. 

"I could be at Publix, and I'm just walking around looking for what I want, and I don't know that someone is talking to me," he said.

While Lawson is a capable and quick lip reader, he says it is still a challenge to understand every word in a conversation. He started learning American Sign Language as a teenager.

"I was doing a lot of lip reading and sometimes you're not really following people," said Lawson.

Executive Director Rick Kottler said he has seen depression in senior citizens when they start losing their hearing.

"Hearing loss is one of the most devastating sensory losses that you can have," said Kottler.

It is important children are reached while they are receptive to changing habits before damage is done.

"If they hurt their ears now, they don't realize it for five to 10 years down the road," said Kottler.

The Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services of the Treasure Coast offers "Dangerous Decibels" programs at schools on the Treasure Coast. It also offers hearing aid banks for adults and children.

Visit http://www.dhhstc.org/index.html for more information.

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