Hearing disorders increase the sense of isolation and helplessness experienced by many in the Salt Lake area. As many as 10 percent are affected by hearing loss, according to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.

During May "Better Speech and Hearing Month audiologists in the Salt Lake City area want to increase awareness of the kinds of communication disorders that commonly strike hearing impaired persons."While communication disorders are more common in the elderly, they are usually not life-threatening," said Michael Page, audiologist at Audiology Associates of Salt Lake City. "Communication disorders can seriously decrease their interest and involvement in the world around them."

Hearing impairment is the leading communication disability experienced by elderly Americans, according to data available from the association. Of the 27 million Americans over age 65, as many as 50 percent have a hearing impairment.

Page noted that hearing impairment not only limits social interaction with family and friends, but it also reduces their ability to receive and interpret vital information. Coping with such ordinary life situations as shopping, using public transportation and telephones, communicating with health care professionals, tradespeople and community service providers becomes difficult, if not impossible.

In extreme cases, Page noted, elderly people with hearing impairment may fail to respond to warning devices such as fire alarms and sirens or to identify dangers from approaching vehicles or assailants.

Page said many elderly people are either unaware of the severity of their hearing problem or have difficulty coming to terms with it. "Many others," he added, "have been told that it is a natural part of the aging process and nothing can be done to treat the problem."

Page stressed, "For their own psychological health and physical safety, it is imperative that seniors with hearing difficulties receive a thorough audiological evaluation."

Once the nature of the hearing loss has been identified, he added, an audiologist can recommend a specific program of rehabilitation, possibly involving the use of a hearing aid, or some kind of assistive listening device.

During Better Speech and Hearing Month, Audiology Associates of Salt Lake City will be offering complimentary hearing screenings for anyone by appointment. For more information, please call 364-8692.