Hearing aid program prompts ripple effect

Posted Aug. 12, 2009, at 9:21 p.m.
Last modified March 20, 2011, at 6:38 a.m.

It all started with a letter to Mary Poulin describing a man with hearing loss so pronounced he could no longer understand his doctor’s instructions. An idea was born.

“This is my baby,” said Poulin, executive director at the Warren Center for Communication and Learning of the ReHAB program. “I’ve watched it grow and it fills such an important need in the community. Unfortunately, we have nearly 100 people on our waiting list. We are constantly searching for funds to keep the program going. Each aid costs about $500 to refurbish and place.”

Not being able to hear can have profound consequences on a person’s life.

“People tend to withdraw from the community because they can’t hear and things are not fun for them anymore,” said Amanda Samoluk, audiologist at the center. “Consequently they will often stay home where they can turn the TV up really loud.”

The ReHAB program repairs and refurbishes old, donated behind-the-ear model hearing aids and gives them to those in need. In-the-ear models cannot be recycled, but the center receives a credit when an aid is returned to the factory. The credit is put toward reconditioning a behind-the-ear model.

“There is no other program like this one,” Samoluk said. “It is essential to the community. Often elderly people would not be able to be part of the community and interact with family and friends — and especially their doctors — without a hearing aid.”

While its offices are in Bangor, the center covers most of the state.

The process to take part in the ReHAB program is simple. First, there is a test to determine the amount of hearing loss. You will need a referral from your doctor. Then an application is completed and your name added to a waiting list. When the name comes up, a hearing aid is fitted. Clients are asked to make a nominal co-payment, usually less than $25, if possible, to help support the program.

Samoluk offers tips for communicating with someone who is hard of hearing:

- Get the person’s attention before starting a conversation.

- Speak slowly and clearly. Do not shout or overemphasize your words.

- Make sure the person can see your mouth. Don’t talk behind a newspaper or hold your hands in front of your face or talk to someone from behind.

- Face the person and make sure there is ample lighting in the room. It’s important for the person to see your face.

- Limit background noise by turning off the television. Remember, appliances such as a dishwasher or microwave oven create background noise that can make voices hard to hear.

When people return to the Warren Center for a follow-up, the impact the program has made on their life and their family’s lives is clear, Samoluk said.

“One woman’s daughter told me how wonderful it is not to have to write out conversations with her mother on paper anymore,” she said.

There is a ripple effect with a hearing aid, Samoluk said, because everyone involved with a person who’s hard of hearing benefits. And that trickles back to the center.

“We go home feeling good at the end of the day,” Samoluk said.

The center will soon fit its 200th hearing aid since it began the ReHAB program in March 2002.

If you would like to donate a hearing aid to the ReHAB program, send it to the Warren Center, 175 Union St., Bangor, ME 04401 in a padded envelope.

For more information on the ReHAB program, visit www.warrencenter.org or call 941-2850.

Carol Higgins Taylor is director of communications at Eastern Area Agency on Aging. E-mail Higgins Taylor at chtaylor@eaaa.org. For information on EAAA, call 941-2865, toll-free 800-432-7812, e-mail info@eaaa.org or log on EAAA.org. TTY 992-0150.

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