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Portland VA Medical Center

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Portland VA Medical Center Hearing Education Center opens

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Hearing Education Booth - exterior view

Hearing Education Center in the Specialty Clinics waiting area at Portland VA Medical Center. It houses a computer-based hearing loss prevention education program designed to educate and encourage Veterans to protect their hearing.

By Robert L. Folmer, Ph.D.
Friday, October 22, 2010

A one of a kind, Hearing Education Center, is installed in the Specialty Clinics waiting area at Portland VA Medical Center. It houses a computer-based hearing loss prevention education program designed to educate and encourage Veterans to protect their hearing. Hearing loss and tinnitus (ringing in the ears) are the two most common service-connected disabilities for Veterans, including those who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation Enduring Freedom. The personal and financial costs for these conditions are substantial and continue to increase each year.

In 2007, Dr. Stephen Fausti and Dr. Marjorie Leek at the National Center for Rehabilitative Auditory Research (NCRAR) received a grant from the Joint Incentive Fund (JIF) to develop a hearing loss prevention education program for Veterans and military personnel. JIF is a collaborative program between the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense. The JIF program's goals are to enhance cost-effectiveness, quality, and access to health care for military personnel and Veterans. The goal of the Hearing Education Center is to reduce the prevalence of hearing loss and tinnitus among Veterans and active duty military personnel. Two more booths built by the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry and will be installed at Madigan Army Medical Center (Fort Lewis, Washington), and Womack Army Medical Center (Fort Bragg, North Carolina).

The program includes the following elements:

  • A sound-attenuated booth in which one participant at a time interacts with the program.
  • On a booth exterior wall, a 40" flat screen LCD that displays silent video clips and text describing what the booth is and the activities available inside.
  • An artificial ear attached to a sound level meter on the exterior of the booth. When participants insert one of their iPod or MP3 earphones into the ear, a digital display shows the intensity of their music in decibels.
  • Inside the enclosure, a computer touch screen allows participants to select among a variety of activities
  • A printer allows them to print informational handouts and test results.
  • Inside the enclosure, on-screen video and audio instructions show participants how to place headphones on the correct ears and to set the volume at a comfortable listening level. A brief video then introduces the program. After the video, participants may select among activities shown on the main menu screen.

The program was developed for use in an outpatient clinic or in a communal area of a hospital. Dr. Gabrielle Saunders and colleagues at NCRAR will soon conduct a formal evaluation of the program's effectiveness. Ultimately, we hope to make the program available to all Veterans, military personnel and other members of the public by making it accessible through the internet and medical centers throughout the country.