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Hear and now

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Teri Quednau has been wearing a hearing aid in her right ear for nearly 25 years. She decided to seek help at 32 was when she was having trouble hearing in social situations and she noticed that sound was muffled on that side when she was making phone calls in inside sales. “I’d start isolating because I couldn’t hear,” she recalled.

Quednau is one of about 10 percent of people with hearing loss that is the result of otosclerosis, the abnormal growth of bone in the middle ear.

Originally from Carol Stream, Quednau moved to Central Illinois after her daughter, Erica, came to study broadcast journalism at the University of Illinois, got a job at a local television station and ended up marrying a local farmer.

Quednau worked as a patient care tech for a couple of local hearing aid businesses. Quednau taught patients how to clean their hearing aids and talked to them about her own trials and tribulations in wearing one. “I really enjoyed it,” she said. “I could relate to the patients. Patients loved that I would spend time with them.”

Outside of work, Quednau met people with hearing aids who were frustrated at not being educated when they bought them and feeling like they didn’t know what they were getting for their money. “Starting my own business is something I’m passionate about doing because part of my business goal is education,” she said.

She decided to get her licensing to become a hearing aid specialist, opening Quednau Quality Hearing at 2305 Village Green Place, Suite E, Champaign, on Jan. 7. “I wanted to do something different for the patients,” she said.

After reviewing their test results with patients, Quednau explains the features and options of each hearing aid model and talks to the patients about their lifestyle to determine the best fit for them. She makes recommendations from among the various models. “I don’t just sell hearing aids; I help people hear,” she said. “In my own business, I’m trying to sell them more affordably. I realize these folks have fixed incomes.”

Quednau conducts a speech and tone test. “That’s the most important thing when you can’t hear,” she said. “When they’re in a crowded room when socializing or with a group of family and friends and there’s a lot of noise, they can’t hear the speech, who’s talking. Here, I go above and beyond, and it’s worth it because the patients are hearing better I’m going to do everything possible to get them hearing again.”

Quednau is also mobile, willing to go in a radius of up to 80 miles to help patients who can’t get to her. “I want to do what I want to do – give people good service and treat people the way they want to be treated,” she said. “Just that feeling when you can help someone – that’s what makes it all worth it.”

Her office is located next to the now-closed Connect Hearing office, and she is honoring lifetime service agreements that the business had with its patients. Quednau, who lives in Sidney, would like to open an office in a rural setting since many of her patients live there.

Quednau admits that hearing aids can initially be overstimulating to wear for those who aren’t used to hearing noises like their car’s turn signal or even their own voice. “It’s scary and confusing,” she said. “But you’re not going to talk as loud because you can finally hear yourself.”

Quednau periodically hosts lunch-and-learn community events at senior centers, where she talks about hearing loss and the effects on the brain of not treating it.

According to a 2011 study by John Hopkins and National Institute on Aging researchers, seniors with hearing loss are significantly more likely to develop dementia over time. A 2013 study suggested that those with hearing loss are 24 percent more likely to see their cognitive abilities diminish. A study by The National Council on the Aging found that those with untreated hearing loss were more likely to report depression, anxiety and paranoia and were less likely to participate in organized social activities.

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, about 37.5 million American adults have hearing loss. Over 90 percent of hearing loss is classified as sensorineural, meaning the root cause lies in degeneration of mechanosensitive hair cells and spiral ganglion cells in the cochlea. Once damaged or dead, the hair cells can’t be regenerated.

Presbycusis is the most common type of sensorineural hearing loss and is caused by the natural aging of the auditory system. Medications can be ototoxic, meaning that they damage the ear, resulting in hearing loss. Hearing loss is more common in people with diabetes and heart disease.

Quednau said many patients don’t wear their hearing aids because they were never educated on how to use them or because of the social stigma associated with them. She recommends that patients wear them for a minimum of eight hours per day, explaining that they’re always analyzing the environment, even when the user is sitting home alone reading, so they should be worn consistently. “I try to tell them (patients), ‘Don’t take them out,’” she said. “The hearing aids are aiding the speech and sound and processing them so they get to the brain correctly. Then the brain is stimulated and sends it out as the correct speech and sound.”

Quednau doesn’t charge a fee if patients return the hearing aids. “Some people just aren’t ready,” she said.

Today’s more technologically advanced hearing aids have Bluetooth sound settings that can stream music and audio books and can be adjusted for personal preference of bass, treble and frequency. Quednau said that’s popular with professors who like to go to concerts, plays and operas, for example. Helpful features include geotagging that lets users set personalized programs for specific environments like favorite restaurants.

“The technology in hearing aids is so advanced now,” she said, noting that they can be paired with iPhones to stream music and Netflix into the hearing aids. “Your hearing aids are essentially ear buds.”

A growing number of farmers have suffered hearing loss from loud equipment used without hearing protection before tractor cabs were built to reduce noise. The younger farmers appreciate the technological advances. “They love it, and it gets them to do it now (wear them),” Quednau said. “I want to help my generation because the longer they go with hearing loss, the harder it is for me to get them rehabilitated, and I don’t want them to lose quality of life.”

Quednau noted that hearing aids also help with tinnitus. “So many people suffer from that, and it can be maddening,” she said. “There’s no cure for it, and we don’t know why people have it. Hearing aids have very good tinnitus managers in them.”

Quednau recommends getting a hearing test to establish a baseline and then being tested at least biannually. “That way we catch it before it goes untreated too long,” she said. “With your ears, it (hearing loss) is a very gradual, slow process.”

Quednau cautions against phone apps that are now available to test hearing since they won’t detect conditions like cholesteatoma or Meniere’s disease. The International Hearing Society objects to the “over-the-counter” hearing aids that can be bought online without the need of an audiological review. “It’s shaking up the industry,” she said. “There’s nobody to counsel you or help you. That’s another part of education I’ve got to do.”

Quednau Quality Hearing’s hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Due to her mobile appointments, it is recommended to have an appointment when you come in. She can be reached at 217-693-7085, at her email address, or via her website,