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Storrs Campus Clinic Offers Help
for Speech, Hearing Problems
November 15, 1999

In middle age, Professor C. found he was having a hard time understandin g students' questions and that in everyday conversation he was frequently saying "pardon?" Social occasions had become less enjoyable, as the background noise made it almost impossible to understand what people were saying to him.

He turned for help to the University's Speech and Hearing Clinic.

Located on a cul-de-sac at the end of Bolton Road on the Storrs campus, the clinic is off the beaten track and many in the University community are unaware of the wide array of services it offers. "One of the University's best-kept secrets," is how Susan Bartlett describes the hearing aid dispensing program, one of the services of the clinic.

Bartlett, director of the Speech and Hearing Clinic, is proud of the state-of-the-art facilities, which treat the entire spectrum of hearing problems from infants to people in their 90s. Though there are other hearing clinics in the state, UConn's is "one of the top academic, clinical programs in the country," according to Harvey Gilbert, professor and head of the Department of Communication Sciences.

Gilbert adds that students, faculty, and staff receive a discount on the cost of hearing aids.

Diagnosing the Problem
Bartlett says loss of hearing among the middle-aged and elderly is a common problem. The first step is an extensive diagnosis that begins when a client calls to make an appointment. During that call, a trained receptionist asks questions to determine the nature of the problem and to assign an audiologist to the case. Five full-time clinicians - three speech-language pathologists and two audiologists, who are faculty members and also supervise undergraduate and graduate students in training to become clinicians - staff the clinic, along with one part-time audiologist.

After meeting and talking with the clinician in charge of the case, the client undergoes extensive tests in a small room with soundproofed walls, with a monitor recording the responses to a series of sounds and speech signals that vary in tone and intensity. This battery of tests is used to determine the type and degree of hearing loss. Bartlett says there is wide variation in the different kinds of sounds people hear or don't hear. Prior to a hearing aid fitting, a client may also be referred to a physician for medical clearance.

The next step after the diagnosis is to recommend a hearing aid specifically for the client. The audiologist uses ear impressions and computer-generated components to make careful fittings to the individual ear.

Following Up
Follow-up appointments are standard procedure for ensuring that the client gains the maximum benefit from the hearing aid. There may be some problems adapting to the hearing aid, such as finding the amplification too strong or too weak, continuing to have trouble hearing on the phone or in a theater, or having trouble cleaning the device.

Bartlett urges new hearing aid users to attend the orientation sessions offered by the program and to bring in spouses or companions who also may have questions. There are also "trouble-shooting clinics" where a hearing device can be adjusted or - in some cases - replaced, and questions answered. Bartlett says the hearing program is open year-round, not just during the academic year.

Help for Young Children
Although many cases are related to aging, the clinic's staff and facilities also deal with hearing difficulties at the other end of the age spectrum. When pediatricians suspect a hearing problem in an infant, a referral is often made to the clinic. One of the small soundproofed rooms is designed specifically to test the hearing capacity of babies and very young children.

One method of assessing the hearing of young children is to seat the child on the mother's or father's lap, with attention directed forward. If the child hears a tone or speech signal presented through the speakers on the sides of the booth or through earphones, he or she will turn toward the source of the sound. The child's response is reinforced with an animated toy that lights up. The pitch and tone of the sound are adjusted during the test, resulting in an audiogram that illustrates the range of the child's hearing sensitivity. Even infants can be fitted with a device to improve their hearing, Bartlett says.

The Department of Communication Sciences has a number of other programs to assist adults and children with speech or language problems. They include:

  • an accent modification program designed especially for graduate assistants from foreign countries who want to improve their comprehensibility;

  • an aphasia treatment program to help those whose speech has been impaired by a stroke;

  • and a support group - starting in January - for people who stutter.

Diane Cox