Loud and Clear

May 28, 2024 Blog, Events, Featured

Healthy Hearing Enhances Lives of SOWI Athletes

Special Olympics Wisconsin’s (SOWI) health programs improve access to health care for athletes through free, event-based screenings and educational initiatives. With nearly 1,800 free health screenings provided annually, Special Olympics Wisconsin has emerged as a leading public health organization for people with intellectual disabilities.

One of these vital programs is Healthy Hearing.

In partnership with HEAR Wisconsin, Healthy Hearing screenings are free exams designed to ensure proper audiological care for participating Special Olympics athletes. Led by volunteer professionals, Healthy Hearing also provides tests for cerumen (earwax) and otoacoustic emissions tests.

The amount of hearing loss among individuals with intellectual disabilities is much greater than that found in the general population, as hearing problems are often undetected, unserved, or undertreated.

“Healthy Hearing screenings throughout the country tell us that a large percentage of Special Olympics athletes have untreated hearing conditions,” SOWI Director of Health Programs Melissa Schoenbrodt said. “In our testing, we’ve learned that 42% of athletes have blocked or partially blocked ear canals, and 29% failed the Puretone hearing screening.”

Ian is just one Healthy Hearing success story. Ian is an athlete from central Wisconsin who participates in bowling, track & field, and bocce and attended Healthy Hearing at the 2023 State Bowling Tournament.

Ian’s mother, Pam, said Ian has a history of ear-related issues.

“Ian had tubes put in as a child and struggled with other ear issues like infections and fluid in the ear,” Pam said. “But because we had not been able to do any follow-ups prior, we decided to take Ian to Healthy Hearing at State Bowling.”

Ian was flagged at the event as having an ear infection and a need for more intensive testing. Ian’s parents took him for follow-up care once his infection had cleared, and it revealed significant hearing loss in his right ear. Ian was fitted for a hearing aid in his right ear, and the results have been dramatic.

“We were not aware that Ian had any hearing loss in his right ear,” Pam said. “Without Healthy Hearing, we are sure the loss of hearing in his right ear would have gone undetected for a long time.”

Ian’s parents said there were immediate results when Ian wore his hearing aid for the first time.

“Ian normally does not get emotional, but he had a huge smile,” Pam said. “We’ve also noticed that Ian engages more in conversations and responds to people’s questions faster. Ian’s communication at home, school, and work has greatly improved. Many other people have noticed this as well.”

Pam said none of this would have happened if Healthy Hearing was not present at State Bowling.

As for Ian, he summed up his Healthy Hearing experience quite well. “Healthy Hearing helped me hear better.”

The HEAR Wisconsin Mobile Audiology Clinic (MAC) will be available for free hearing screenings on Friday, June 7. Look for the MAC vehicle next to Victory Village from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. for athletes, coaches, family, and friends to receive a free hearing screening. HEAR Wisconsin staff are also available for hearing aid checks and cleaning. In addition, HEAR Wisconsin will have an assistive technology booth located in Victory Village. Stop by to try out the technology and talk to an expert who can help athletes that qualify receive assistive technology devices at no charge through a voucher.


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