Approximately 22 million (10%) Americans aged 21 to 68 may have permanent damage to their hearing from exposure to loud sounds. American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) communities are particularly concerned about hearing loss because being deaf or hard-of-hearing can isolate tribal members from oral traditions, which are essential to the practice and preservation of native culture.
Health care providers screened 289 people from a rural tribal reservation and an urban clinic serving AI/ANs. Clinically significant hearing loss affected more than 46% (134) of participants, some of whom were fitted for hearing aids. For 21 of these people, researchers tracked quality of life changes over a 6-month period and found that most participants (75%) noted a significant life improvement when amplification was used.
Researchers also asked questions on hearing health as part of a Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System survey conducted in the rural tribe. Survey results showed that 18% of adults reported provider-diagnosed hearing loss and 33% reported tinnitus. The provider-diagnosed hearing loss results are substantially higher than the national average (8.4%).
Noise-induced hearing loss and tinnitus is preventable by avoiding exposure to loud noise. However, neither sufficient information on how to protect hearing nor prevention education programs for children and youth have been available. The Oregon Hearing Research Center at OHSU developed a hearing health curriculum – Dangerous Decibels® – that can be delivered in schools and on the Internet. The curriculum and its component activities (classroom presentation, web-based learning, and museum exhibit) were reviewed by tribal elders and by focus groups of Suquamish tribal members, and were judged to be acceptable and feasible for use with American Indian children in the Pacific Northwest.
Researchers are now adapting and testing Dangerous Decibels® among school aged children in several tribal communities in the Pacific Northwest, and they are evaluating the curriculum’s effectiveness to change knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors.
Martin, WH, Lambert WE, et al. Hearing health in Northwest American Indian Communities. (Presentation abstract from the 2010 Western Regional Meeting of the American Federation for Medical Research, January 27-30, 2010, in Carmel, California.) Journal of Investigative Medicine 2010;58(1):116.