Can You Hear Me Now?

Dyson Professor Abbey L. Berg discusses her research on the long-term implications of iPod usage, the implementation of tools for use in emerging countries, and much more.

“I’m really hoping to go to Belize and Mozambique within the next year,” says Dyson Professor of Communication Sciences and Disorders Abbey L. Berg, PhD. “I was asked by UNICEF to design a validation study comparing a low-cost hearing screening instrument to a more expensive equipment. If it turns out that this low-cost hearing screening tool is fairly accurate, it would be a wonderful instrument to use in developing countries that don’t have the infrastructure or resources that developed countries have.”

Berg, who was approached by UNICEF in May 2012, has been working on the development of a tool that is capable of assessing the risk of hearing disabilities in children 2-17 years of age in developing and emerging countries. One of the tenets of the task was to create a tool that could be easily used and understood by community fieldworkers, the majority of whom are only high school graduates.

Though hearing disability is just one of several disabilities UNICEF is exploring, Berg’s proposal has been accepted to the review process and will hopefully soon be piloted in Belize and Mozambique. “I’m very excited about the global implications,” Berg says.

In a related vein, Berg’s most recent notable research has come from her study of the changes in high-frequency hearing thresholds in adolescents. Data collected from adolescent females from a foster care facility over a 24-year period was examined.

“What my colleague, Dr. Yula Serpanos and I found was that in 2008, the high-frequency hearing thresholds were much higher—that is, the girls had poorer hearing than children in the facility in say 1990,” says Berg, “Our analysis supports that the higher high-frequency thresholds observed resulted from the increased use of iPods and other MP3 players.”

Going forward, as these devices become more prevalent, children will be more susceptible to noise-induced and age-related hearing loss; a reality that will have both social and economic consequences.

“They’re going to need hearing aids—it’s going to cost health care dollars,” she says, “and the social isolation that comes from hearing loss can be very serious. Recent studies have found an association between hearing loss and dementia.”

Berg’s most recent research continues on high-frequency hearing loss in the adolescent population. She is working with psychology and communication professionals to deduce which media best reach resistant populations, because, as Berg explains, adolescents are not known to take advice well.

“We’re currently exploring public health options and other methods to reach kids early in life. We hope that as they grow up, they won’t take risks with their hearing,” says Berg. “It’s tough, but I’m very excited about this.”