Hearing loss among adults is extremely common, especially among those over age 65. Hearing aids can improve speech communication in a variety of situations, yet many older adults with hearing loss do not obtain hearing aids, and as a result, they struggle to communicate with family, friends, and health-care providers. Two major factors limit the access of older adults to hearing aids: 1) the high cost of hearing aids, and 2) the limited knowledge about the benefits of hearing aids in older adults and in their health-care providers.
In 2007 students and faculty from the Program in Audiology at the University of Louisville School of Medicine piloted a new program: The HA-HELP program (Hearing Aids for Elderly Living in Poverty). The purpose of this program is threefold: 1) to educate individuals over the age of 60 years about hearing loss and hearing aids; 2) to educate health professionals about the importance of hearing rehabilitation in older adults; and 3) to provide hearing aids to those elderly Kentuckians living below the poverty level along with financial assistance for hearing aid purchases to those living just above the poverty level. In a 10-month time period, we dispensed hearing aids to 16 individuals.
The map below shows the Louisville Metro area. The darkest areas on the map are those with the highest percentage of individuals living in poverty (based on 2000 census data). Those areas with 20% or more of the individuals living in poverty are our target areas. For the HA-HELP program.
Figure 1: Louisville Metro’s targeted neighborhood.
The map below shows the same portion of the Louisville Metro area as shown above. In the map below, the zip code locations of the 16 hearing aids dispensed by the HA-HELP program are shown. It can be seen that the individuals served from the pilot project were from the zip codes with the two highest poverty rates. However, a large single area with the highest poverty level was not served; this is shown with a red circle. This area is the focus of our current HA-HELP program.
Figure 2: Red circle shows area that is currently targeted. Blue arrow shows where social work services are provided. Green arrow shows where audiologic services are provided.
RED BIRD MISSION. BEVERLY, KENTUCKY
Red Bird Mission and Clinic have been providing ministries in this region of the Appalachian Mountains since 1921. Today the need remains critical in this isolated, rural distressed area. Chronic poverty, lack of jobs, poor housing, and rugged mountainous terrain provide obstacles to a fuller life for the residents of this area. Red Bird Mission and Clinic strives to meet these needs through ministry in five areas: Education, Health and Wellness, Community Outreach, Economic Opportunity, and Community Housing Improvement.
Feeling compelled to reach out to the underserved population of hearing-impaired individuals in the Eastern Kentucky mountains, several of our Au.D. students, accompanied by program faculty, established a relationship with other healthcare providers at the Red Bird Mission. Their work at that site was underwriten by one of the major hearing aid manufacturers.
Students and faculty have made a number trips to this rural clinic. They have completed auditory screenings, hearing evaluations, cerumen management, hearing aid evaluations and hearing aid fittings on scores of patients. The students plan to make the Red Bird Mission a regular part of their service commitment.
One of our Au.D. students, Alicia Fugate, decided to make her work at the Misssion a part of her 4th-year project. Alicia recognized that an audiologist cannot always be present to service patients' hearing aids, so she set out to find ways to train local volunteers to act as repair and maintenance technicians. She is currently working on a curriculum to teach basic skills to select volunteers, thus improving the continuity of care to this group of patients.