The website for GiveHear, a local nonprofit, quickly points to its purpose:
While 1 in 8 people might have measurable hearing loss, many don't seek treatment because they can't afford it.
But there are consequences when hearing loss goes untreated, including:
• It could contribute to earlier onset of dementia, increase the likelihood of accidents and even lead to mental health conditions.
• Job performance could slip, and an individual might even be unable to maintain employment.
Abbie Thiebaut, marketing and development manager at GiveHear, said people wait – on average – seven years to get hearing loss treated. Sometimes, the delay may be because it's uncomfortable to acknowledge a hearing difficulty, but other times individuals might be concerned about the cost of getting help. That's where GiveHear is making a difference.
The audiology clinic, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary with official nonprofit status, had 940 patients this year by the second week of November.
“We are growing pretty quickly,” Thiebaut said. “I believe we're on track to do about 1,000 individuals.”
But like many nonprofits, GiveHear can use a little help. It provides services, including testing, on a sliding fee scale based on income to make treatment and assistance affordable for clients. And the clinic sees all ages. About half of its patients are younger than 18, Thiebaut said. About 25% are ages 18 to 64 and 25% are age 65 and older.
Occasionally, individuals are born with a hearing problem or develop one based on noise-induced experiences.
James Baldwin, 62, has hearing aids in both ears, thanks to GiveHear. He recalls having insomnia as a child and using headphones to listen to music and fall asleep.
GiveHear has provided discounts and been helpful when problems occur with his hearing devices, Baldwin said.
“They're very polite to me; always have been,” Baldwin said, during a brief interview before an appointment this month at the downtown clinic.
Charlotte Thompson, an audiologist at GiveHear, said being able to remove what could be a financial barrier to individuals getting hearing aids is her favorite part of working at the clinic.
“I really enjoy the environment overall, the relationship we have with our patients,” Thompson said.
GiveHear accepts gently used hearing aids from individuals and has received them from across the nation because “there's not too many places that take them,” Thiebaut said.
The clinic works with manufacturers to buy new devices at discounts. It also has two to three fundraisers each year, although its traditional annual fall gala has been canceled the last two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The last two years we've done more of an online, virtual celebration, and people participated in that as well,” Thiebaut said.
GiveHear has 10 employees, including three audiologists, and is open Monday through Friday and alternating Saturdays. Along with the downtown Fort Wayne clinic on Main Street, GiveHear has sites in Garrett and Goshen.
“Our vision overall is that no person be prevented from full participation in life due to hearing loss,” Thiebaut said.
Children who face hearing issues might not do well in school. They need to hear 40 million words by the age of 5 to be on track for speech and language development, Thiebaut said.
Even a mild hearing loss can cause a child to miss 50% of classroom discussion.
“It's really important that they get it treated, for developmental reasons especially,” she said.
For adults, hearing loss can lead to isolation. Some patients have expressed exhaustion after having to keep asking people to repeat what they said because of hearing loss.
“This time of year can be really isolating, specifically for those who have untreated hearing loss,” Thiebaut said. “It's a great time to reach out to loved ones who have that kind of hearing loss or to make a gift to GiveHear.”
GiveHear patients are asked to volunteer at their favorite nonprofits around the city “to pay it forward for others – just as has been done for them,” the organization's website says.
In addition, the program challenges those who have withdrawn from others due to hearing loss to reengage socially.
Occasionally, a patient needs a cochlear hearing implant, and GiveHear audiologists can assist using devices from certain manufacturers. But more often, hearing aids can improve hearing ability.
“Technology has come so far in the last years, and you'd just be so surprised at how small and discreet they are and the technology that's in them,” Thiebaut said.
130 W. Main St., Suite 150, Fort Wayne
Mission: That no person be prevented from full participation in life due to hearing loss
Wish list: New hearing aid batteries, new and used hearing aids, new and gently used children's books
Drop-off: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday at GiveHear office; you can also request a postage-paid envelope to send your used hearing aids by calling 260-602-3276