IM this article to a friend!

August 9, 2004

CNY helping to find new generation of hearing aids

From: Syracuse Post Standard, NY - Aug 9, 2004


Hearing loss occurs so gradually, says Syracuse audiologist Dana Oviatt, that people forget what it's like to hear normally. By the time we seek a hearing aid, we're not sure what to expect.

Our choices for hearing aids are better than ever. And, if they're not good enough, we can look into cochlear implants - some of the research for which is conducted right here in Syracuse.

Oviatt says today's hearing aids are digital, with special circuits to squelch whistling feedback and which automatically adjust to different volumes. They sell for $1,400 to $2,700. A hearing aid is right for you if you can't hear without lip reading.

"If you cannot benefit from a hearing aid, then you're a candidate for an implant," Oviatt says.

Two young Central New Yorkers are helping develop a new generation of implants.

"These people were sort of the pioneers," Robert Smith, director of the Institute for

Sensory Research at Syracuse University, says of Cristina Hartmann, 19, of Fayetteville, and Elizabeth Tricase, 19, of North Syracuse.

Both women were born deaf and received cochlear implants as children, when implants were introduced. It wasn't until they became research subjects at the institute this summer that they realized they had been in preschool together in 1985-86. This fall, Hartmann will be a sophomore history major at Cornell University, and Tricase will be a sophomore physical education major at the State University of New York at Cortland.

They are helping Smith and graduate students Nicole Sanpetrino and Ben Milczarski to compare the hearing abilities of those who learn to speak before getting an implant with those who get an implant first. The young women listen to a computer program and signal when they hear various sounds.

"We are finding some interesting differences," Smith says. "We think they experience the sensation of loudness in a different way."

Implants can cost about $30,000, but health insurers usually pay for them if the person's deafness is severe. Health insurers usually won't pay for hearing aids, though Oviatt says U.S. senators are considering a bill that would offer tax credits to people who buy hearing aids.

Smith is always looking for more study subjects, people age 18 or older who have had a cochlear implant for at least six months. If you're interested, call him at 443-4164 or send an e-mail to

If you wonder whether you're losing your hearing, the nonprofit Better Hearing Institute poses these questions:

Do you have a problem hearing over the telephone?

Do you have trouble following the conversation when two or more people are talking at the same time?

Do people complain that you turn the TV volume up too high?

Do you have to strain to understand conversation?

Do you have trouble hearing in a noisy background?

Do you find yourself asking people to repeat themselves?

Do many people you talk to seem to mumble or not speak clearly?

Do you misunderstand what others are saying and respond inappropriately?

Do you have trouble understanding the speech of women and children?

Do people get annoyed because you misunderstand what they say?

Three affirmative answers should prompt you to talk to your doctor about possible hearing loss.

It may not seem like a serious medical issue, but research by the National Council on the Aging shows that people with untreated hearing loss are more likely to experience sadness or depression, worry and anxiety, paranoia, emotional turmoil and insecurity and social isolation.

© 2004 The Post-Standard.