Alberta health officials hope a new program will result in more newborns getting screened for permanent hearing loss when they’re only weeks old.
“We want to screen all the babies as soon as possible so the hearing loss can be confirmed and proper intervention will be implemented,” said Dr. Huiming Yang, the Alberta Health Services (AHS) screening medical director, on Wednesday.
“Hearing is very critical for speech, language, development and also for communication and learning, so as you can imagine, if a baby has hearing loss, there will be a developmental delay.”
The Alberta Early Hearing Detection and Intervention Program will offer free hearing tests that are “noninvasive, very gentle and simple,” according to Yang. While the baby is sleeping or quiet, soft sounds are played into the ears while a computer tracks how the ears respond.
AHS aims to test newborns by the time they are a month old, but a child can still be screened up until they are three months old.
“Right now, the programming is available in all of our sites that have neonatal intensive care units and also every hospital that does over 200 births a year,” said Peter MacKinnon, an AHS senior program officer.
“To catch any births that don’t fall into either of those two categories, we have community-based options.”
Around 85 per cent of newborns are currently screened for permanent hearing loss, according to officials. AHS’ goal is to increase that to more than 95 per cent.
It can take up to two years for a child to be diagnosed with hearing loss if they are not screened early on.
Last year, more than 51,500 babies were born in Alberta. Each year, between 110 and 160 babies are born with permanent hearing loss, according to AHS.