In 2007 and 2008, researchers from the Center for Healthy Native Communities conducted audiometric tests among American Indians in the Pacific Northwest and found a high prevalence (43% to 66%) of noise-induced hearing loss. Potentially hazardous noise comes from both occupational and recreational sources. By educating people about noise exposure when they are young, hearing loss, which may develop over years, may be prevented.
Researchers are adapting an effective program (Dangerous Decibels®) to prevent noise-induced hearing loss and tinnitus (ringing in the ears) in 8 of 43 federally-recognized American Indian tribes of 3 Pacific Northwest states—Idaho, Oregon, and Washington. Two groups of fourth- and fifth-grade American Indian students participate in the program. One group receives a 50-minute classroom educational presentation, and a second group participates in an enhanced program that includes the presentation, family and community involvement, attendance at a museum exhibit, and additional classroom presentations. Also as part of the enhanced program, articles about hearing loss problems and solutions are distributed through a major print media outlet, and a public awareness campaign is broadcast on the radio to increase awareness about hearing-loss prevention. After the classroom presentation, students in the enhanced group attend a family event at their school to view a traveling museum exhibit. The event includes a blessing, a prayer, an explanation of the importance of hearing to tribal culture, and interaction with “Jolene,” the exhibit’s mannequin. Students can find out if the volume level of their personal music players is dangerous by placing their earphones into Jolene’s ears. The exhibit includes interactive learning components to educate students about hearing, ear structure, safe and dangerous sound levels—all by using state-of-the-art technology. Students visit the exhibit once in person during the family event and a second time 4-weeks later, by accessing a Web-based virtual exhibit in their school’s computer lab. Students in each group will be assessed at baseline and at 3 and 6 months later on knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors related to hearing health and hearing-loss prevention. After the research project ends, enhanced program activities are offered to the classroom presentation-only group. Outcomes for the two groups will be compared to assess the effectiveness of the enhanced program.