May is about better hearing, speech

Published 11:59 pm Sunday, May 11, 2008

As May is Better Hearing and Speech Month nationally, now is a good time to refresh our memories of speech and hearing wellness. When we take good care of our overall health, we reduce the risk of damaging our abilities to speak and hear. Of course the standard health regime does apply.

Good nutrition promotes brain growth, may prevent subtle fetal brain abnormalities, heart disease and reduce the risk of some cancers. These health problems can have a damaging effect on our abilities to use speech and language. Heart and circulatory problems can also affect hearing.

Regular professional health care promotes constant monitoring of health status. It may prevent illness, disability, high blood pressure, which all affect hearing. Routine health care also may prevent voice disorders and aphasia (the loss of ability to use and understand language). Exercises and stress management increases physical and emotional well-being, which reduces the dangers of stroke and the resulting possibility of aphasia. Remember to buckle up for safety when driving any vehicle. Head injuries cause memory deficits and difficulties with thought processing and language understanding as well as language expression.

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Alcohol affects the brain and common “street” drugs are even more toxic. The language and learning areas sensitive to and easily damaged by substance abuse include memory, problem-solving, deriving meaning, decision-making, and anticipation of consequences. Substance abuse can even dry the mucous membranes of the vocal tract. For those of us who enjoy cigarettes and smokeless tobacco, we must remember that neonatal problems, laryngeal and oral cancers, respiratory distress, developmental disabilities and even strokes are possible.

Let’s be reasonable about protecting ourselves.

Avoid extended periods of exposure to loud noise.

Wear ear plugs or ear protectors when around loud noises, contrary to popular belief, cotton in our ears does not work.

Keep the volume down in our cars and on our personal music systems.

Do not try to clean our ears with cotton swabs or such “foreign” objects as bobby pins and pencil tips.

Have our hearing checked periodically. If we have trouble understanding what is said to us, have constant ringing in one or both ears, are not startled by noises that startle others, or frequently need to ask others to repeat what they said, we need a hearing test.

Do not misuse the voice by shouting or using a pitch level that is too high or too low for comfort.

Parents: Take time to listen, talk and read to our children, beginning at birth.

Accept some speech mistakes as the child learns. Do not ask the child to slow down and repeat, this brings attention to the mistake and may cause anxiety in the child — which causes more speech problems.

Talk naturally to children, simplifying sentences and words and never use baby-talk.

Children learn by our model, if we do not speak sounds correctly they will not learn them correctly. If a problem does exist, contact a speech pathologist, early treatment is very important.

Ear infections cause temporary hearing losses. If hearing is impaired, language-speech may not develop at a normal rate.

Let’s seek professional help if we are unsure of our own or our children’s abilities to communicate. Let’s get help as soon as possible. If a hearing problem is suspected, contact an audiologist. If a speech-language problem is suspected, contact a speech pathologist or your local school district.

Remember, May is Better Hearing and Speech Month. Live well.

Ruth Anderson is a Natchez speech pathologist.