Hearing loss is often accepted as simply an inconvenience—an inevitable, if annoying, part of life. But recent research has revealed that this condition is far more serious: Besides diminishing quality of life, hearing loss leads to tremendous damage to economic well-being, with an estimated annual cost in the United States of $122 to $186 billion in lost productivity and tax revenues. It’s associated with a long list of negative health consequences, including increased risk of dementia, falls and hospitalizations, and diminished physical and mental health overall.
Hearing loss is also incredibly common. According to the National Institutes of Health, almost 25 percent of Americans ages 65 to 74 and 50 percent of those who are 75 and older have a disabling form of hearing loss. About 15 percent of Americans between 20 and 69 have high-frequency hearing loss due to noise exposure.
Taken together, these factors add up to a high need for research to find new ways to prevent hearing loss and to provide even better patient care for those who suffer from this condition, says David M. Rubenstein, co-founder and co-CEO of The Carlyle Group, a global investment firm. A Johns Hopkins University and Johns Hopkins Medicine trustee and well-known national philanthropist based in Washington, D.C., Rubenstein recently pledged to donate $15 million to Johns Hopkins’ Department of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery to create a new hearing center.
The new center will integrate clinical care and research to restore functional hearing to people with congenital and acquired hearing loss. A key research area for the center will be “system-based” hearing restoration. Researchers will explore novel approaches to protect and repair the inner ear and to ensure effective connectivity with the brain. “These promising areas of research will hopefully
get us closer to helping people with hearing loss and deafness,” says Rubenstein. “The sense of hearing is a precious gift, and we need to step up our efforts to ensure that we address and help those in need.”
This research will proceed in parallel with clinical care that provides a wealth of patient resources, from care coordination, to patient and family education, to trials of new hearing devices, to enhanced patient access and outreach. To acknowledge this generous gift, the patient care clinical space for the otology clinic on the sixth floor of the Johns Hopkins Outpatient Center will be renamed the David M. Rubenstein Hearing Center. The center will include the Division of Otology and Neurotology, the Division of Audiology, and the Listening Center.
“The generosity of individuals like David Rubenstein helps keep Johns Hopkins as the premier institution for cutting-edge research,” says Paul B. Rothman, M.D., dean of the medical faculty and CEO of Johns Hopkins Medicine. “This gift represents a continued commitment to improve the health and well-being of our community and, ultimately, the world.”
The new funding will allow Johns Hopkins’ hearing researchers to devote their time to vital research, says Paul Fuchs, director of research for Johns Hopkins’ Department of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery.
“One of the challenges for anyone doing research in a biomedical environment is to sustain adequate funding so programs can grow over the course of years, but researchers often find themselves running from grant application to grant application instead of being creative and diving deeply into research,” he says. “Now we have a situation where we can look five years down the road and know that we have a secure nest egg to fund promising projects.”
This research and other facets of Rubenstein’s gift will lead to significant advances for hearing loss patients at Johns Hopkins and elsewhere, says John Carey, director of Hopkins’ Division of Otology, Neurotology and Skull Base Surgery.
“We feel very fortunate that Mr. Rubenstein, an investor, has decided to invest in us and the field of hearing loss,” Carey says. “This gift is an incredible opportunity for Johns Hopkins to make a difference.”