By Scott Morgan

Many people don’t have to do anything to get their ears working—their ears just work, all the time, and always have.

The thing is, your ears might not be working as well as when they were showroom fresh. Over the years, perhaps a noisy environment has pummeled the little receptor hairs in your auditory canal. Or maybe your diminishing ability to hear is actually genetic.

In either case, your sound environment has slowly gotten quieter. This, says Joanne Rosenberg, an audiologist and owner of Family Hearing Center in Lawrence, is how people with hearing loss become isolated.

People in your own family may even exhibit some unrecognizable signs of hearing loss. Someone may stay off to the side at family get-togethers, doesn’t join in the dinner conversation on Thanksgiving, or seems surly and withdrawn.

Though many may believe that the problem is just age and personality, the truth, Rosenberg says, is that any perceived personality issue might have stemmed from the fact that this person has been losing the ability to hear over the course of many years.

“The sad thing about hearing loss is that you don’t even know it’s happening in the beginning,” she says. “Maybe the first five or six years.”

Slowly, the ability to hear fades, until one day the person can’t keep up with others’ conversations so well. They stop socializing because they can’t understand what someone is saying. And slowly, like their hearing, their interest in socializing fades. They become withdrawn and frustrated. And the rest of us often write it all off as, “He’s just getting old and cranky” or “She hears what she wants to hear.”

Rosenberg founded Family Hearing Center a year ago to help people recover their hearing, but she also did it to help people recover their sense of sociability, she says. Having watched her own grandmother slowly drift away from group conversations and become isolated, Rosenberg knows the toll hearing loss takes on the patient as well as the family.

Rosenberg, who earned her master’s in audiology (the science of hearing loss and its treatments) from Temple University in 1991, has been an audiologist for more than 20 years. She started in the field as a “road warrior” for hearing products, she says.

Having built an encyclopedic knowledge of the array of hearing products and the software that helps attune them to individuals, Rosenberg says she’s as technically qualified as anyone in the state when it comes to hearing aids and treatments.

What she says sets her apart is her bedside manner and her empathy for the plight of those who’ve become disconnected from their spouses, families and friends.

“In private practice, you learn what works and what doesn’t,” Rosenberg says. “And the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that you have to have your heart in it.”

It’s an oft-repeated business truism that you need passion to run a successful company, but Rosenberg takes it a step further—with passion comes compassion.

“I want to help people understand,” she says. “That’s the goal.”

Besides, the field of audiology (which had 100 or more product manufacturers when Rosenberg started, but now has barely a dozen) has gone high-tech. Computers zero in on exactly the type of hearing problem patients are having and compensate. Wireless and discreet sets have replaced clunky plastic hearing aids.

“It’s just fascinating,” she says. “I really get a kick out of it. And I love the looks on their faces when they realize what they’ve been missing.”

Family Hearing Center is located at 177 Franklin Corner Road, Suite 1-B in Lawrence.

For more information, call (609) 895-1666. On the Web: