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Northwestern University’s “Healthy Ears, Healthy Aging” Initiative Now Includes Public Seminars

Coping with hearing loss can be difficult at best, devastating at worst. Yet a series of seminars focusing on helping those experiencing hearing loss created by the Northwestern University Center for Audiology, Speech, Language and Learning (NUCASLL) intends to empower and educate this population.

“The Communication and Hearing Enhancement Seminar is a unique component of our Center’s Healthy Ears Healthy Aging Initiative,” says Denise Boggs Eisenhauer, director of NUCASLL. “The open seminar is designed for community members who wish to learn more about hearing loss and strategies for improving communication.”

The next series of seminars will run January 22 through February 26, 2018.

The first series kicked off October 9 2017 and are led by Northwestern University faculty Dr. Ariel Fruendt and Dr. Landon Duyka, who are able to provide much needed education and information on the important steps individuals can take to improve their lives through a focus on hearing health. The seminar is free to all participants, thanks to a generous donation from David Kabiller, a Northwestern Trustee and alumnus.

While similar information has been available in other formats before, Kabiller’s gift has ensured that this service is free to participants. Also new is the leadership and involvement of Landon Duyka, MD, who brings an important perspective as an otolaryngologist from the Feinberg School of Medicine.

“The seminar series, which lasts six weeks and will repeat quarterly, covers a range of topics such as types of hearing loss, the brain’s role in listening and hearing, the benefits of new technological solutions to aid hearing, and how to protect hearing from further damage,” says Fruendt, an audiologist and lecturer in the Roxelyn and Richard Pepper Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders.

“Every quarter, the seminars will be slightly different as we adjust them to the needs of our group,” Fruendt says. “We’re also strongly encouraging people to bring communication partners, such as spouses, relatives, or friends who also can learn their part in communication strategies. We have nine people in this particular group, including married couples, a mother and daughter, and close friends as well.”

Communication partners and advocates are important, Fruendt said, because it’s often hard for those with hearing loss to solve their problems alone. For example, someone with hearing loss has difficulty following a change in conversation, so a communication partner can alert them to a change in topic, or to keep in mind other strategies, like making sure they’re facing their spouse or relative when talking to them, so they have a better chance of being heard and understood.

Diane Novak, lecturer and assistant director of NUCASLL, said that the class can help couples, relatives, and friends come to a better understanding of their loved one’s condition.

“Hearing loss can have a detrimental effect on communication and can lead to a lot of anger and frustration,” she says. “Some spouses even blame their partners for this problem, but in the end, they can both realize it’s our problem, not something that one person can solve all by themselves.”

Novak said advances in technology have made hearing aids better than ever, and in some cases, they even work in in tandem with cell phones, turning phones into microphones that can be used to pick up conversations down a table at dinner, for instance, or having a cell phone “ring” directly into the device. Yet, hearing aids can be difficult to manage without added help and instruction.

“During this class, we’ll also answer questions about hearing devices and help patients use the ones they have or help them decide if they should get one,” she says. “So many people aren’t successful in using hearing aids on their own, and with those who take this class, the satisfaction rate is much higher.”

Those who have hearing loss, Novak said, can often feel isolated as they withdraw and become less social for fear of not being able to hear conversations. They can also lose out on those small bonding moments of conversation between spouses or relatives. The Communication and Hearing Enhancement seminar is designed to keep people engaged longer, and have more satisfactory relationships in their lives.

Fruendt said many of the members of the group are younger than most would expect — it includes recent retirees who still want to travel and remain active, for example. The class is for anyone who’s noticed a decline in their ability to communicate.

“If they feel like they’re getting more frustrated with communication and communication breakdowns, and they’re arguing more often with their spouse or relative, then this class could really help,” she says. “Sometimes, those with hearing loss will kind of tune out and stop paying attention if they decide it’s not worth the effort. In this class, we work to really empower participants to understand their own hearing loss, and also communication partners can understand their role in helping to address the problem. We can create a positive environment at home.”

If you are interested in scheduling a hearing test or joining the next free class, contact NUCASLL at 847-491-3165 or