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October 13, 2002

Activist offers advice

From:, VA
Oct. 13, 2002

Hearing activist promotes support programs for the hearing impaired.

The Free Lance-Star

RVA PRIOLA says that there is no reason for people with hearing loss to feel alone or embarrassed. But she knows their pain.

"There still is a stigma with hearing loss," she said. "People who haven't experienced it just don't knowbut it hurts.

"People even now are looked down upon for the use of hearing aids in many cases. We have no problems putting eyeglasses on, but have a real hard time wearing a hearing aid."

Priola is profoundly deaf. She said she began suffering hearing loss in college and eventually had to retire from teaching.

Now, she is a hearing activist.

She is the coordinator for the deaf and hard of hearing at the disAbility Resource Center in Fredericksburg. She is one of the founders of the Rappahannock Area Self-Help for Hard of Hearing chapter. And she has been active in supporting legislation proposed by state Sen. Edd Houck, D-Spotsylvania County, that would require Virginia's health insurers to include hearing aids in their coverage.

She says that about 28 million Americans suffer from hearing loss, and that more than 650,000 Virginians can be considered deaf or hard of hearing.

The disAbility Resource Center works with the Virginia Department of Deaf and Hard of Hearing to provide a variety of opportunities for area residents. There is information about hearing aids, amplified phones and other telecommunication devices, and visual alerting systems for telephones and fire alarms. The center also offers American Sign Language classes and educational workshops on dealing with hearing loss.

"The resource center also allows people with problems to meet others who have been through the hearing-loss process," Priola said. "And that support is important."

Priola said that the first step for those with hearing problems should be a visit to their family physician. Next, should be a referral to an otolaryngologist, who specializes in ear and throat problems.

"If it is determined that the problem is from nerve damage, then the next step will be a hearing test and evaluation by an audiologist, and then the purchase of a hearing aid based on the test results."

When asked about hearing instruments that can be found advertised in magazines for as little as $30, Priola said "stay away from them."

"The proper fit is very important," she said. "If you simply get a mail-order hearing aid, you're not getting something that is properly fitted to your needs."

Priola recommends that people learn all they can about hearing aids before making a purchase. She suggests hearing aids equipped with a telecoil that can be used with a hearing-aid-compatible telephone. And she also said it is important to ask about the warranty, a trial period and follow-up visits to the hearing-aid supplier.

For a person with profound hearing loss, a cochlear implant is an option. It is a surgically planted electronic device that transmits signals directly to the auditory nerve. The procedure is expensive, however--between $40,000 and $50,000, according to The National Campaign for Hearing Health.

New developments in hearing technology include a middle-ear implant. It is smaller than a grain of rice and directly vibrates the tiny bones in the middle ear--essentially mimicking the natural hearing process. This procedure costs about $15,000.

Priola said,

"It is vital for people to protect their hearing. Once you lose it, there is nothing that will bring back perfect hearing."

Copyright 2002, The Free Lance-Star Publishing Co. of Fredericksburg, Va.