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Heather Jensen Interview

October 19, 2016

With October being National Audiology Awareness Month, we took the opportunity to sit down with one of Starkey Hearing Foundation’s audiologists, Dr. Heather Jensen, to talk about the importance hearing healthcare awareness.

Q: The World Health Organization estimates there are 360 million people around the world with disabling hearing loss. With that being such a high number, what does it in turn mean to you to work with Starkey Hearing Foundation to help people in need receive hearing health care they would not otherwise obtain?

A: When I realized that of those 360 million people with hearing loss, 80% of them live in an area where they have no access to hearing health professionals and that if all of the hearing impaired people in the world made up one country, it would be larger than the USA and the third largest country in the world, it really helped to put it into perspective why the work that Starkey Hearing Foundation does is so important. It can be overwhelming at times to think about how many people need hearing healthcare who have no options to obtain it. We are so blessed to have the option of taking our children to be quickly treated for an ear infection or for our parents to get hearing aids. Because of that I feel it is our duty to give back to those who aren’t as fortunate. I chose the field of audiology because I wanted to help people improve their ability to communicate and stay connected to their friends & family. Working with Starkey Hearing Foundation allows me to help so many more people than I ever could on my own. When a patient receives hearing aids and is able to communicate with their loved ones it changes the life of not only the patient but those around him as well.  On humanitarian missions you’re able to provide hearing aids over and over all day long and they are so grateful for the gift of hearing, especially because the patients have no other options.  It is so rewarding to be a part of this gift. It is difficult to put it into words unless you have experienced it!

Q: The United States and other nations have regulations about noise in the workplace environment, but many developing nations do not. To what extent is noise-induced hearing loss in these developing counties play a role in the high amount of people with hearing loss?

A: I feel that hearing loss is an “invisible” disease. Because there isn’t any pain associated with noise induced hearing loss it makes it easy to think it isn’t happening. Most countries we visit have no standards for noise levels in the workplace. We recently were in St. Kitts in the Caribbean and fit several patients who had lost their hearing after working for years in the noisy sugar factory. It is difficult to explain to them the importance of protecting their hearing. I always try to share this message while on missions with hopes that it will start to make a difference!

Q: As a clinical professor at Utah State University, you’ve been a part of educating hearing care professionals in the U.S., and now you’ve become a part of the Starkey Hearing Foundation team that is working to educate hearing instrument specialists around the world. What does it mean to you to bring hearing care education to parts of the world where it never previously existed?

A: Educating those in other countries provides an opportunity for them to not only improve their abilities as a health care provider, but also to change the community that they live in.  Currently 94.4% of the Starkey Hearing Foundation hearing health care coordinators live in the communities/regions where they work. This means that there will be a change in awareness and the ability to help those in need where it matters most to them. Change has to start somewhere and by starting with educating those who work in the communities eventually we will be able to shift the way that entire cities and then countries view hearing loss. By educating the local health care providers we ensure that the patients we fit with hearing aids are able to get the care that they need after the Starkey Hearing Foundation team has left. It is such an important piece to offer that follow up After Care in order to ensure that the patients are getting the full value out of the hearing aids we provide.

Q: What are some of the key misnomers people around the world may have about their hearing?

A: Many people feel that there is nothing they can do to treat their hearing loss. They have so many other health problems that hearing loss becomes forgotten about. It isn’t painful or life threatening, so they just don’t worry about it. They don’t realize that the longer they live with the hearing loss, the harder it is to treat.

Q: October is not only National Audiology Awareness Month, but also National Protect Your Hearing Month. What should people know about the need to ensure they protect their hearing?

A: According to the World Health Organization, Some 1.1 billion teenagers and young adults are at risk of hearing loss due to the unsafe use of personal audio devices, including smartphones, and exposure to damaging levels of sound at noisy entertainment venues such as nightclubs, bars and sporting events. Hearing loss has potentially devastating consequences for physical and mental health, education and employment. They don’t realize that once the damage has occurred there is no way to bring their hearing back other than hearing aids. We used to see patients that had noise induced hearing loss due to work in farming, factories or military service. But they didn’t know any better or realize the damage that was occurring. Now we realize the importance of protecting your hearing, but it is still difficult to get teenagers and young adults to turn down the music! 

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