27 October 2003

States offer hearing aid loan banks for infants

Families with hearing impaired infants in Delaware in the United States will soon be able to borrow hearing aids from a new hearing aid loan bank while they wait for their doctors and insurance companies to provide permanent ones. The service will be offered by the state.

A similar hearing aid loan bank for infants' hearing aids was opened earlier in 2003 in Maryland. Vermont offers a similar service for children up to the age of eight, and other states currently are served by privately financed programmes.

The need for infant hearing aids has become more apparent with the increase in infant screening programmes. Two to three in 1,000 newborns suffer from hearing loss, and for the infants who need them, hearing aids are critical to proper brain development and language skills, said JoAnn Baker, director of women's health for the Delaware state Division of Public Health.

"Between about 10 months and two years, their language develops by leaps and bounds. If they have a hearing deficiency, that's where there are delays," she said.

In Delaware, hospitals and midwives have been screening nearly all infants for hearing trouble for two years. But like many other states, the Delaware state authorities had no method of following up with children who showed problems. The hearing aid loan bank is expected to provide hearing aids to a dozen infants a year.

In Maryland, the programme is administered by the Department of Education. The Maryland hearing aid loan bank is stocked with 200 infant- and toddler-sized aids. Parents must apply for the program with the help of an audiologist, and can borrow units for six months with the possibility of three months extension if permanent aids are still unavailable.

In other states it is left up to private groups such as the Lions Club and similar organizations to provide loaner hearing aids while infants wait for permanent units. Among these states are Indiana and Idaho.

Sources: Associated Press State & Local Wire, August 7, 2003
Capital Gazette Communications, Inc. The Capital, Annapolis Maryland, April 29, 2003.

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