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Special Section:
Focus on Communication

Living with Hearing Loss

Bob and Nora Woodruff

Nora Woodruff and her family, including dad Bob, have adapted to her hearing impairment.
Photo courtesy of Stefan Radtke,

Articles by Linda Joy,
Science Writer, NIDCD

It is estimated that more than 46 million people in the United States suffer some form of disordered communication. The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) was created to conduct and support research and research training in the processes of hearing, balance, smell, taste, voice, speech, and language.

Nora Woodruff, daughter of ABC newsman Bob Woodruff and author Lee Woodruff, was born hearing impaired. But she wasn't diagnosed until she was nine months old. Claire, her twin sister, had no hearing problems.
For the Woodruff family (they have two other children, Mack and Cathryn), Nora's hearing impairment meant a re-education on communicating, one that would serve them well when Bob suffered a traumatic brain injury while reporting in Iraq (See cover story, page 2).

The NIDCD celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, with a continued mission to improve the lives of people with communication disorders. "Human communication research now has more possibilities for productive exploration than at any other time in history," says James F. Battey, Jr., M.D., Ph.D., director of NIDCD.

 Fast Facts

  • There are two main types of hearing loss. Permanent hearing loss (called sensorineural) usually involves damage to the inner ear or auditory nerve. Non-permanent hearing loss (called conductive) usually involves damage to the outer or middle ear and occurs because sound waves cannot reach the ear because of earwax build-up, fluid or a punctured eardrum.
  • The intensity of sound is measured in units called decibels, or dB. An ordinary conversation is approximately 60 dB. City traffic noise can reach 80 dB. Firearms can reach an ear-piercing 140 to 170 dB. Loud noises at or above 85 dB can damage the inner ear for good.
  • Approximately 15 percent (32.5 million) of American adults report some degree of hearing loss.

Fall 2008 Issue: Volume 3 Number 4 Pages 10 - 11