By Kate Daly | Special to the Almanac
Over the years in her practice as a clinical audiologist, Dr. Jane Baxter of Menlo Park figures she has treated well over 20,000 people with hearing problems.
That number reflects mostly patients living in the immediate area, but now also includes hundreds of children and adults treated on recent trips to refugee camps and health centers in Jordan and Guatemala. She plans to go to Zambia in May.
As she celebrates her 30th anniversary with Pacific Hearing Service in Menlo Park by handing out chocolate ears on April 5, Dr. Baxter is adding to her workload by creating a nonprofit organization to help even more people with hearing issues. She's already accepting donated hearing aids.
Dr. Baxter's career includes teaching hearing impaired children and working at Stanford in clinical audiology and research. Starting in 1986, she partnered with Jennifer Fargo Lathrop at Pacific Hearing Service when it was located in one office in Los Altos. They co-owned the business for more than 20 years, expanding to a second office in Atherton in 1991.
In 2007 they moved to their current space at 3555 Alameda de las Pulgas in Menlo Park. Dr. Deborah Wilson Clark joined as a partner and now runs the Los Altos office.
Dr. Baxter, who manages the Menlo Park office, often walks to work with her husband, Steve Beck, who recently joined the formerly all-female staff as head of operations.
Dr. Baxter, whose patients range in age from 6 months to 103 years, says she has noticed a trend toward hearing loss at a younger age. Vaccines for mumps and meningitis have cut back on childhood hearing problems, but listening to loud music, ear infections, lots of wax build up, certain viruses, chemotherapy and recessive genes can all cause trouble, she says.
She's also seeing a higher rate of people in their 40s and 50s coming in to be fit for hearing aids because they have noticed a deficit and want to address it so they can continue their active lifestyles.
There have been significant advances in hearing aid technology in the past five years, she says. Devices with microchips can be programmed to fit individual needs, and can be hidden inside the ear canal and worn for extended periods of time. "Receiver in canal" (RIC) hearing aids account for about 70 percent of the market, she says.
Devices can also be designed for more occasional use and attached externally in or behind the ear.
Remote microphones make it possible to focus noise and stream it right into a hearing aid with the help of an iPhone app. Iris Harrell of Portola Valley says she now prefers talking on her cell phone because it's connected to her hearing aid via Bluetooth.
Another customer, Peggy MacLeod of Woodside, swears by her Lyric hearing aid because she can go worry-free for months before she has to go in and have it taken out to replace the batteries.
Rechargeable batteries are on the horizon, Dr. Baxter says.
She lets customers demo for a week different models from different manufacturers so they can get used to hearing sounds again.
Dr. Baxter is the granddaughter and daughter of ear, nose and throat doctors. One of her own daughters is an audiologist and the other just finished her residency in pediatrics.