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The Faculty: Wafaa Kaf

The Faculty: Wafaa Kaf

A look at teaching, research, scholarly activities or service at Missouri State

Many hearing screenings go like this: An audiologist plays tones to someone wearing headphones or sitting in a sound booth.

The person being screened responds, letting the tester know the range of sounds he or she can hear.

But what if the subject is an infant, or an adult with dementia, who can’t be expected to understand test instructions, raise a hand, press a button or talk to the screener?

Dr. Wafaa Kaf has spent many of her 10 years at Missouri State researching ways to evaluate the hearing of these challenging populations.

Kaf is most interested in detecting mild degrees of hearing loss using what are known as “electrophysiological measures” — ways to assess hearing that don’t rely on patient response, but instead objectively track the brain’s responses to sounds.

She may use electrodes placed on a patient’s head, or probes inserted into a patient’s ear.

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Why hearing screenings matter

Kaf estimates that there are 35 million American children and adults with mild, moderate or severe hearing loss.

“Hearing is one of the most important things for children because it is the precursor for them to develop the ability to talk,” Kaf said. Hearing loss may lead to stunted speech-language development, making children feel less competent and confident in school.

Addressing a community problem

In 2005, Kaf started a service-learning pediatric audiology class for doctoral students. With her supervision, students perform free hearing and middle-ear screenings for low-income and underserved populations.

The audiology students take portable equipment to community partner organizations. There, they screen subjects who are typically 6 months to 5 years old. Since the start of the class, she and her students have screened more than 400 children in the Ozarks.

Kaf’s dedication to serving others doesn’t stop there. She often tells parents to bring their child to her lab at the Missouri State Speech, Language and Hearing Clinic for a full evaluation. She either supervises a graduate student or does the evaluation herself — and all of this is provided at no cost to the parent. Kaf estimates this service-learning class has saved parents in the community thousands of dollars.

Her work also helps audiology professionals, since research about hearing screenings by Kaf and her colleagues has been published in national and international journals.

Kaf is taking a sabbatical this fall to conduct a study on detecting mild hearing loss in young children. She started the study in the Ozarks and will continue it in Egypt, her home country.

“It’s an intensive workload, but I feel I am their advocate,” she said of those screened by the service-learning class. “These are parents who are in the most need of that service for their children.”