It’s easy to take the gift of good hearing for granted.
Many among us aren’t so lucky. Today, about 37 million people in the United States have hearing, speech or language impairments. More than two million new cases of hearing impairment are reported each year in the U.S.
And among school-aged children, three out of every 100 are affected by hearing impairments and another three out of 10 children suffer from middle ear infections that often cause temporary hearing losses.
Fortunately, most people with communication disorders can be helped. There are a number of rehabilitation methods including medical treatment, hearing aids and speech and hearing therapy that are readily available today.
And fortunately for us, we live in a community that has a full-service diagnostic and therapeutic center for children and adults that can address almost any type of speech or hearing problems.
I’ve long known about the top-notch services provided by the Looper Speech and Hearing Center, but I recently heard a presentation that enlightened me even more.
Most of you know that the center was established in 1969 following the death of Dr. John W. Looper Jr., Dalton’s first pediatrician, who died tragically and well before his time in a light plane crash. While practicing medicine in Dalton, Dr. Looper had been concerned about the lack of services for speech and hearing patients in our area, so it’s very fitting that the center was named in his memory.
Since it opened its doors, the center has provided more than 200,000 services and touched the lives of more than 100,000 people, including patients who cannot make speech sounds, who have rhythm and fluency problems, cognitive communication impairments and/or problems understanding and producing language.
Speech and hearing disabilities can arise at any age or stage of life. Many of the patients that the Looper Center works with are children who are born with handicapping childhood disorders such as cerebral palsy, Down syndrome or autism.
Other patients have suffered brain injuries or strokes, and many have oral motor problems that cause eating and swallowing difficulties. Still others develop a hearing loss as they age.
Last year, statistics indicate that among the patients who received services at the Looper Center, 36 percent were infants or youth under the age of 18; 30 percent were adults under 65; and 34 percent were older than the age of 65. The majority of patients, more than 70 percent, were residents of Whitfield and Murray counties.
The services offered by the Looper Center are almost too many to name, but they include swallow evaluations, electrical stimulation of muscle function, deep pharyngeal neuromuscular stimulation, electro-larynx training, augmentative communication, stroke rehabilitation and cochlear implant training.
The staff of one audiologist and three speech therapists also assist those who have feeding disorders, including children who suffer from failure to thrive or those born with cleft palate, to learn to eat. They work with those who have voice disorders caused by nodules and paralysis to regain their speech. And they teach sign language to the deaf and hard of hearing.
And these are just a few of the services.
Perhaps what is most helpful about the Looper Speech and Hearing Center is that patient fees are based on a sliding scale, taking into account the family’s financial situation. So while it is not a “free clinic,” it is a program that makes sure that no one is ever refused needed services solely because of the lack of financial resources.
Those of us who have good hearing and no major speech issues often think we won’t ever need these services. But hardly anyone’s life goes by that is not affected by our own or some loved one’s need for speech and hearing care, especially as we age. Let’s all be grateful that we can access such excellent care should that occasion arise.
Werner Braun is president of the Dalton-based Carpet and Rug Institute.