A New Screening Program for Alberta Babies

Alberta’s EHDI Program identifies permanent hearing loss as early as possible in a baby’s life

Story by Jacqueline Larkin and Melissa Schock

From birth, the ability to communicate is important. Language, whether spoken or signed, is needed to express and understand needs, feelings and ideas.

Permanent hearing loss is one of the most common conditions found in newborns. When a baby is born deaf or hard of hearing, the process of developing language is delayed, which impacts learning and overall development.

Alberta’s Early Hearing Detection and Intervention (EHDI) Program is now offered across the province.

“As the newest provincial screening program provided by Alberta Health Services (AHS), the EHDI Program identifies permanent hearing loss as early as possible in a baby’s life to provide the follow-up and support families need, even sooner,” says Tanis Howarth, director of Provincial Audiology with AHS.

“Without hearing screening, the average age of diagnosis is generally between two-and-a-half to three years of age, leading to significant delays in language development, literacy and learning”, adds Howarth, “A provincial EHDI Program changes that outcome. It gives babies born with a hearing loss the opportunity to develop language on par with babies who can hear.”

The screening process is a quick test to check how well a newborn is hearing.

“Even though a baby may respond to some sounds, they may not hear well enough to develop language,” says Howarth.

Dr. Huiming Yang, Provincial Medical Officer of Health with Healthy Living and Medical Director of Screening Programs, says more than half of all babies with this condition are healthy and have no family history of hearing loss.

“It’s surprising to many people that permanent hearing loss is one of the most common conditions found in newborns,” says Yang.

While most babies pass their hearing test, some babies need additional testing to confirm or rule out hearing loss. Early support and intervention for permanent hearing loss improves children’s language and learning and helps to decrease delays in development.

With more than 50,000 babies born in Alberta each year, the EHDI Program will impact many newborns and their families by identifying hearing loss early on and providing support to ensure they have the best start to life.

Jessica Wiseman holds her daughter, Aurelia Greszczyszyn, during a hearing test as part of Alberta Health Service’s Early Hearing Detection and Intervention (EHDI) Program. The screening test involves soft sounds played into a baby’s ears as the child is sleeping or quiet. Photo by Kerianne Sproule.

New mom Jessica Wiseman had her baby Aurelia’s hearing tested shortly after she was born.

“The test is quick and easy and very gentle for the baby,” says Wiseman. “Having Aurelia’s hearing tested early on gave me peace of mind and provided me with important information about her health. I’m happy this service is offered in Alberta.”

Hearing screening is quick, safe and doesn’t hurt. This service is offered in many hospitals and community sites throughout the province and is available to all babies born in Alberta, or born to parents living in Alberta, within 90 days of birth. It’s best for babies to be screened by one month of age.

Visit our website for more information and to find services near you.

Alberta Health Services