Keeping an ear out: Meet the instructor who wants you to turn down the noise
By Maggie Tung, Communications Coordinator
Ted Venema had never even heard of the hearing health field until he was 30. Now, he is not only educating his students and the public on the importance of protecting our eardrums, but he also sees a rising demand for Registered Hearing Instrument Practitioners and says that this is an excellent time to get a start in the industry.
What got you into teaching?
After graduating university, I ended up in Calgary and worked at the juvenile detention centre there. The kids were from 10 to 16 years old and were in there for breaking and entering or whatever, and they come from broken homes and stuff; a lot of them couldn’t read very well. So I often ended up showing them the alphabet and teaching them to read. I think that’s when I realized I liked explaining things; that I loved teaching.
Why did you decide to teach in a hearing-related field?
To tell you the truth, I’d never heard of the hearing-related field of audiology until I was about 30 years old. I got a bachelor’s degree in philosophy. I thought I’d go on for my master’s and PhD in philosophy, too. Guess what? I wasn’t very good at symbolic logic. My girlfriend suggested – since I like talking a lot – that I should study to be a speech therapist, so I went into speech-language pathology. It turned out that I really didn’t like speech-language pathology that much, and so I slid into audiology and got my master’s degree. I was a clinical audiologist before I went for my PhD in audiology and became a professor. It’s funny how life takes you to places you didn’t think you’d end up at.
Why don’t you teach at a university?
I’ve taught at two universities, one at Auburn, in Alabama, and then at Western, in London, Ontario. But at universities, you’re supposed to publish your research. And that just wasn’t in my heart; I’d rather focus on teaching. So I find that the college scene is for me.
What does the Douglas College HEAR program do?
Basically, the Hearing Instrument Practitioner program teaches students how to test hearing, how and when to refer to a doctor and when not to. Otherwise, if it’s straight hearing loss, then how to prescribe hearing aids. So it’s testing, hearing and prescribing hearing aids when need be. Students learn anatomy, sound waves and acoustics. They learn about hearing disorders and hearing aid technology.
Why is it a good time to become a hearing instrument practitioner?
Baby boomers like me, people born between 1946 and 1964, we are now reaching senior citizen status. And when you hit the age of 65, that’s when you start getting age-related hearing loss, or presbycusis. So there’s going to be a lot of people needing hearing aids. I think only about one in five people who need hearing aids wear them, so the market is barely penetrated, and the number of potential clients will keep going up. A Hearing Instrument Practioner graduate out of Douglas College will definitely find work.
Why is it important to be aware of hearing loss?
Hearing loss is invisible: You can’t see it, and people only believe what they see. Hearing is an interesting sense because it not only involves the person who has the hearing loss but also people around them. When someone has hearing loss, it affects relationships, and it can really put a strain on them. When people can’t communicate very well, it cuts them off from others, it really does. So I think it’s an underplayed sense and yet it’s so critical.
Why is it important to protect our hearing?
We don’t stare at the sun, right? Likewise, our ears are not impervious to the ravages of noise. After presbycusis due to aging, excess noise exposure is the most common cause of permanent hearing loss, and it can happen to anyone at any age. And it’s permanent. Hearing aids help, but they don’t address the real need. I always give this analogy: When you walk on the lawn, the grass bends, and then it stands back up again. But if you keep walking on the lawn, the grass blades will eventually die. And those grass blades are like the tiny hair cells inside your inner ears. When you blast them down with noise, they’ll stand up again, but you’ll have ringing in your ears. If you keep blasting them, they will die. And they don’t come back.
How can we protect ourselves from hearing loss?
Use common sense. If you have ringing in your ears after you’ve been to a loud party or whatever, that’s a sign of excessive noise exposure. Noise that’s over 85 decibels – 85 decibels is like someone yelling at you from one metre away – is too loud if your ears are exposed to it for a long period of time. Use earplugs if you’re going to be riding a lawnmower or sawing wood or whatever with power tools.
How loud is too loud when using headphones?
If you can hear sound from someone’s headphones, that person’s probably getting over a hundred decibels slamming into their eardrums, which is more than those ears were meant to take.
Ted Venema is an instructor in the Hearing Instrument Practitioner program at Douglas College. He earned a BA in Philosophy at Calvin College (1977), an MA in Audiology at Western Washington University (1988) and a PhD in Audiology at the University of Oklahoma (1993). He has worked with the public as a clinical audiologist, testing hearing and fitting hearing aids, at Canadian Hearing Services in Toronto and at NexGen Hearing in Victoria, B.C. Ted is the author of a textbook, Compression for Clinicians, which is one of the textbooks in the Hearing Instrument Practitioner program at Douglas College.