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The author's eight-year-old daughter, Lucy, gets her hearing checked.

Did you know that nearly 50-million Americans have some sort of hearing loss? I'm one of them—I was born deaf in my left ear from genetic nonsyndromic senorineural hearing loss.

Hearing loss is actually the country's most common birth defect. In fact, two to three of every 1,000 children born in the United States are deaf or hard-of-hearing. And ninety percent of those kids have parents who can hear, like me. I wasn't fully diagnosed until I was a teen.

Perhaps even more interesting, the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) says that only 20% of the staggering number of people who could benefit from hearing aids are actually using them. Hearing research and technology have made huge leaps and bounds since I was a child, and the 40-million people not taking advantage of them are missing an opportunity to hear much better.

So in honor of Better Hearing and Speech Month—which continues through the end of May—here are eight reasons to get a hearing check now:

1. You've probably noticed a hearing problem already but done nothing about it. Don't worry, you're not alone. People generally wait seven to ten years between the time that they notice a hearing problem and the time they actually make an appointment with an audiologist or ENT.

2. Even if you've had regular physicals and appear to be in good health, you could have a hearing issue. Only 16% of physicians routinely screen for hearing loss.* Since a hearing exam is not a standard part of most examinations, you typically have to make a separate appointment—and you may not have known to do so since many general practitioners don't suggest it.

3. If you are a recent veteran, chances are your hearing was damaged during your service. 60% of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan come home with hearing loss and/or tinnitus.

4. Hearing loss can cause learning delays, and your child might be among the 20% of preschoolers to fail a hearing screening*, but the earlier the problem is caught, the better.

5. Hearing loss can lead to depression and social isolation—it can affect nearly every aspect of your life. Treating hearing loss can help people re-engage with their communities and even be able to stay more involved with their families.

6. A recent study out of Johns Hopkins showed that people with mild hearing loss are twice as likely to develop dementia—a likelihood that increases with the severity of the hearing loss. Researchers are still searching for reasons for this correlation, but one hypothesis is that the isolation and depression caused by untreated hearing loss may contribute to cognitive decline. It's possible that, by treating hearing loss, we may be able to stave off dementia.

7. One in five teenagers now has a hearing loss. The supposition is that this is caused by toxic levels of noise from mp3 players. While parents have for years been encourage their teens to turn the music down (listening at maximum volume for more than 15 minutes a day can cause a permanent hearing loss!), it's also important to ask if they're having trouble hearing and get their hearing checked.

8. If you pledge to get your hearing checked, you can help the Hearing Health Foundation raise money. For each online pledge up to 10,000, healthyhearing.com will donate a dollar to the Hearing Health Foundation to help fund hearing research. And a bonus: the Foundation will help you find local audiologist and otolaryngologist and provide information about what questions you should be asking when you visit.

Elizabeth Thorp is a family travel expert and writer. She is the founder of Poshbrood, a curated catalog of mom-tested, upscale, family-friendly vacation properties. She has been navigating public affairs and communications in Washington for 20 years. Elizabeth lives in Bethesda with her husband, Almus, and three young daughters Isabelle, Lucy, and Penelope.

*Statistic provided by Center for Hearing and Communication, from data collected in New York City.

Posted at 10:53 AM/ET, 05/20/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()

Many young journalists must wonder what their careers are going to look like. Although the profession will undoubtedly change in significant and unpredictable ways in a digital world, looking back on a generation of journalists offers clues into your future.

In Whatever Happened to the Washington Reporters, 1978-2002, I report on the lives of the 450 Washington reporters I first surveyed in 1978. With my students at George Washington University and my interns at the Brookings Institution, we located 90% of them between 2006 and 2011, and re-interviewed 283. We found them in 19 states in addition to the Washington area, as well as Australia, New Zealand, Italy, France, and the UK. So our findings reflect more than the Washington job market.

The biggest surprise may be that you are apt to be a journalist-for-life!

When I started interviewing in 1977, journalists claimed "I'll stay till my legs go." This referenced the high energy level of the job. But also the low pay. When you start worrying about how to pay your kids' college tuition, it's time to remove to public relations, or some other occupation where you can cash in on your skills, knowledge, and contacts.

But this didn't happen for two-thirds of the journalists. Even beyond a 30-year career, a quarter stayed in journalism for over 40 years, 13 for over 50 years, 3 worked for 60-plus years. (Sorry, I can't predict you will love longer than those in other lines of work.)

This is especially nice news because these happy warriors are notorious complainers. Contended Albert Hunt, Bloomberg News, who had been a journalist for 47 years, "We complain because we are quasi-creative workers." Creative people are supposed to complain.

Why the longevity?

Because you love what you're doing. Journalists keep volunteering that they are having "fun." This is the most repeated word in our interviews. (Contrast this with those for whom fun is what they do after work, not during work hours.)

Because you are likely to marry someone like you. That is, in socioeconomic terms: college-educated, possibly with a graduate degree. So your spouse (if he/she is not a journalist) probably will be a lawyer, doctor, professor, or someone whose income, combined with yours, means that you will not have to quit journalism to send the kids to college. And since you love your work, why quit?

Yet some young journalists will dropout. Why?

Because some go into journalism on a fling. It's an engaging job before going to law school or into a family business or for those who just don't know what else to do. In short, these reporters treat journalism as a short-term adventure rather than a serious career option. (Note: There are some flingers who stay for life.)

Because some leave journalism for the same reasons that people leave other types of work. They have a fight with the boss. They feel trapped in an organization that isn't going to work for them. They are caught up in a reorganization. Or for personal reasons that might relate to the health of a child, moving because of a spouse's job, or the needs of aged parents.

Here's something else for young journalists to file for future use. You will live a long life and you will retire retire and you will wonder about what will be life-after-journalism. Then you discover that people with journalism skills, the ability to write fast and accurately, are in demand to teach courses and for short term projects in the worlds of business, foundations, and associations. There are even retired journalists who insist on writing their memoirs. And there are those who simply wish to do good. Aaron Epstein, after 42 years as a journalist, decided to help fifth and sixth graders put out a school newspaper. Its mottos is "Thou Shall not Bore the Reader."

Stephen Hess is a senior fellow emeritus at the Brookings Institution and the author of the Newswork Series, published by the Brookings Press. The most recent title in his series, Whatever Happened to the Washington Reporters, 1978-2012 was published this year. He lives in Northwest DC.

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Posted at 03:02 PM/ET, 12/07/2012 | Permalink | Comments ()

The big 2-0 already, can you believe it? It feels nice not to be a teenager anymore. You know, your twenties will bring so many changes. But through a series of twists and turns you wouldn't believe right now, you will find yourself looking at 30. 

First, let me make sure you understand that I'm not going to give you any advice that you won't eventually take anyway, because if you had changed anything, then I wouldn't be here today. 

Trust yourself. You have a good heart and good sense when you let yourself believe it. 

Be patient and forgiving with friends; you're in a bit of a tiff with one right now but she's a good apple and you'll need her on your team. The returns from this investment can't be overstated--she's happy to be with you whether the circumstances are good or bad. Some of our family we know from birth, and some we find along the way. Use this as a baseline when looking for quality, long-term friends in the future.

On the other hand, not every friend will be around forever. Appreciate them while they're there, and try not to hold a grudge for too long if things don't work out. Some relationships are only meant for a certain time and place. It won't matter so much after a bit of time and distance; better to spend energy on the positive relationships you find (and you will find more than you'll know what to do with). 

While we're talking about appreciation and acceptance, remember to appreciate your family. You will move far away and won't get to see them as much as you want, and they will go through their own changes. Be grateful that they will still be there when you're ready to visit or need to talk, and remember to be there for them, too.  The days of being simply the child and not having to offer support will not last forever; but with their decline is an opportunity to know your parents and family as real people, as adults. Along the way, you'll get new family members too, through birth and marriage (more on that later), and they will fill out this wonderful, worldwide network of people who care about you.

Please take care of your body. You won't believe how soon you start needing eight hours of sleep to function, get sore from sleeping on the wrong mattress, and see an unsmoothable crinkle between your eyes. Wear sunscreen, drink lots of water and, though I said I wouldn't give you any advice you won't take, I highly recommend avoiding tequila sunrises. (Oh well, I tried.)

Try to follow along in your studies. You'd be amazed how much more interesting your International Studies major will be when you're not sitting through classes. But I commend you on all the listening and critical thinking skills you took away. It may not seem like it, but you really will use most of that information again one day. Especially in DC, where everyone is (or at least likes to think they are) worldly. 

Oh, and yes, you'll wind up in Washington, DC, our nation's capital. You just went there a few months ago for the first time and thought how cool it would be to live in the place where history is created and the future is determined. By the time you hit your next milestone birthday, though, those streets won't just be the cobblestones where George Washington walked. That movie theater is where you went on an ill-fated date; that restaurant is where you shared a birthday dinner with the lovely friends you finally made after that first lonely year away from Texas; that sidewalk is where you first kissed your husband; that house up the street is yours. This city morphed from a mystery and a marvel to a canvas filled with the colors of a full life. You've made it your own.

You are probably wondering about this husband business. Yes, you will "settle down." But first you will be unsettled. You'll have your first real date this decade--no more of that "hanging out" without knowing it's a date stuff. You'll meet some real frogs, and you'll kiss them anyway. You will cry and gasp for air at the pain of rejection. And then you will stand up and realize that they never really rejected you, because you weren't being authentic--how could you, when you didn't really know who you were? And only then--when you accept who you are now and who you still want to become--will you find love. 

And what a love it is! You didn't dream of a big, white wedding as a little girl, and you won't in your 20s either. You dreamed of finding a best friend to love, someone who would hold your hand and your secrets with equal gusto. If I asked you to describe your future husband, you'd probably say he's a combination of the class clown and a Peace-Corps-volunteer-hippie-type. He's not (although he has elements of both of those people). But it's okay that he isn't what you imagined because he will be so much more. He won't be a stereotype--he's a real human, with hopes and dreams - hopes and dreams he will let you share. You will sometimes feel emotional and near tears from happiness. (And because you are you, you will just laugh instead.)

But back to your path. I can't make any great promises about your career. It will have some unfortunate downs, but some good ups as well. You won't be where you want to be. Truthfully though, at 30, most people aren't where they thought they'd be as the mortar boards rained down on graduation day. Your university told you that five years after graduation, you'd be called "boss." Do remember that they said this after you gave them a lot of money.

But through your jobs, you will learn and travel, and you will become so incredibly self-reliant. You've always had an independent streak, but you will take a risk and follow your dreams and move to DC with only a few days' notice. You will struggle with money, you will miss your friends and family, and you will be very lonely sometimes. You will want to move home, but something--divine intervention? stubbornness? determination?--will keep you here. You will learn the beauty of traveling alone and the great joy of not having to. You'll have these special memories that no one else will ever share: the two nuns in a hot tub in Santa Fe; dragging those two enormous suitcases through London; climbing the gorge in Oregon. You'll make some memories that a select few will have, too: singing "Country Roads" in Munich, the humbling experience of helping rebuild post-Katrina New Orleans, seeing the coast of Africa for the first time. Enjoy it all--or don't. Just let yourself experience it, whatever mental state you're in.

Rachel, we're not perfect. Your tendency to expect too much of people, your bossiness, your habit of biting of more than you can chew, your procrastination, and your anxiety will all come into play this decade. I deal with them today. But they make us real, and they keep us humble.

I know what you struggle for and so desperately want at this point in your life: to feel sure of yourself, of anything. So let me tell you--I am proud of you and what you have accomplished. Some of it was absurd, some unnecessarily painful, some unbelievably incredible and exciting. But your 20s will shape up to be exactly what you need and want. 

I look forward to traveling with you as we head into this next decade of our lives, guaranteed to be filled with more changes, perhaps less risky and less spontaneous, but potentially big nonetheless. We will learn more about ourself, strengthen some friendships, and see others fade. And through it all, we'll have each other--one unique person, made of decades of combined genetics, experiences, and memories.

Happy birthday, my friend.

From Rachel, age 30

(P.S. Your last name doesn't get any easier. Sorry.)

Rachel Buczynski (née Higginbotham) is a non-profit program manager and former twenty-something who lives in Alexandria.

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Posted at 11:21 AM/ET, 12/07/2012 | Permalink | Comments ()