Douglas County parents take stand on hearing loss

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A Douglas County parents group is on a mission to save children from noise-induced hearing loss.

Putting in ear buds is an everyday occurrence for most kids, and it’s estimated that one in five experience some level of hearing loss by the time they are teenagers. That has prompted the Douglas County Parenting Coalition to act with more urgency as they try to dispense educational information.

Headsets are not the only factor, says Tobey Stein, co-chair of the 100-member coalition. Environmental noise is also a big culprit in hearing loss.

“It can be from activities that might seem innocuous, like playing in the school band or mowing the lawn,” she said.

These are some of the lessons the coalition hopes to get across during a free event known as “Now Hear This” from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. May 11 at the Parker Fire Protection District building at 10235 Parkglenn Way. The open house-style presentation is intended to begin the discussion on an issue that is expected to grow.

Working in conjunction with the Denver-based Center for Hearing, Speech and Language, the group hopes to attract parents who want more educational material and a chance to walk away with earplugs and specialized high-fidelity ear buds. Organizers will have prize drawings for products for kids and teens that produce safer sound.

Instead of coming off as “preachy,” the coalition designed the event to be fun and interactive, Stein said. The Center for Hearing, Speech and Language will bring in a robot named “Harmony” that can calculate the number of decibels when earphones are placed on its head. It can also estimate the amount of hearing loss that could result from prolonged exposure to loud noises.

“Hearing loss starts to happen at 85 decibels and it’s alarming how quickly you can get there,” Stein said. “If you have the blender and TV going at the same time, you’re at 90.”

A separate puppet show will help younger kids learn the basics of hearing loss.

The Douglas County Parenting Coalition is launching its own noise survey and asking parents and kids to get involved. The kids, known as Decibel Hunters, are encouraged to register the amount of noise in their area through smartphone applications, some of which can be downloaded for free, and report back with the results. The idea is to get residents of Parker, Lone Tree, Highlands Ranch and Castle Rock to record noise levels at different times on different days.

It’s not a scientific survey, Stein says, but the numbers could “bring noise as a civic issue to the forefront” and promote discussion that could result in tangible action to improve quality of life.

The hearing loss awareness campaign is the latest from the 100-member coalition, which “investigates the unmet needs of Douglas County families,” Stein said. The group’s website, www.dcparenting.org, lists several free and low-cost services for local parents and works through public agencies to reach around 6,000 moms and dads per year.

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