Marion Downs (audiologist)

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Marion Downs
Born Marion Pfaender
(1914-01-26) January 26, 1914 (age 100)
New Ulm, Minnesota, US
Nationality American

Marion Downs (born January 26, 1914) is an audiologist and Professor Emerita at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, Denver, who pioneered universal newborn hearing screening in the early 1960s, then spent more than 30 years trying to convince her peers to adopt the testing in hospitals and to place hearing aids on infants who showed hearing loss. She worked to alert the medical world on the developmental problems associated with childhood deafness. As a result of her efforts, 95 percent of all newborns in America today are screened for hearing loss. She devoted her professional life to the promotion of early identification of hearing loss in newborns, infants, and young children and to helping those handicapped by hearing impairment lead fulfilling lives.

Early life[edit]

She was born and raised in New Ulm, Minnesota. She married George Downs, PhD, after her junior year of college, and the couple had three children.


Downs attended the University of Minnesota (UM) until 1934, and in 1948 finished her course requirements at the University of Colorado. She received the bachelor’s degree in political science and English from UM. In 1949, she enrolled in graduate school at the University of Denver (DU) and received her master’s degree in audiology in 1951. She promptly went to work at DU, teaching audiology and directing the audiology clinic from 1951 to 1959. At DU,she supervised a contract with the Veteran’s Administration, doing all the veterans’ speech pathology and audiology exams and hearing aid assessments.

In 1959, she began working as an audiologist in a new ear-nose-and-throat (otolaryngology) clinic at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. There, along with Doreen Pollack, she initiated the practice of fitting hearing aids on infants by the age of six months, on the theory that the earlier the remediation and prevention, the better the functioning would be. At the time, most children did not receive hearing aids until two or three years of age. In 1962, she developed an observational test on newborns, which she reported in 1964. Scientific neurological reports confirmed the early remediation theory in the late 1980s and 1990s. Downs worked at the clinic until retiring in 1982. She published two books and over 100 articles on the subject, and lectured and taught extensively throughout the United States and overseas.

In 1969, she proposed that a national committee be established, composed of representatives from professional hearing health care organizations, to periodically review and evaluate as well as recommend a “best practices” approach to newborn hearing screening. This led to the formation that year of the national Joint Committee on Infant Hearing,[1] which has provided multidisciplinary leadership and guidance in all areas of newborn and infant hearing issues ever since.

Her writing[edit]

Downs co-authored Hearing in Children (Lippincott Williams & Wilkins) with J. L. Northern—a textbook for audiology students on how to evaluate and manage children with hearing impairments. The book underwent five editions between 1972 and 2004 and was translated into several foreign languages. She also coauthored Auditory Disorders in School Children with R. Roeser (Thieme), now in its third edition.

In 2007, Downs published Shut Up and Live! A 93-Year-Old’s Guide to Living to a Ripe Old Age, an exhortation for triumphing over age, with the outline: laugh, exercise, love and enjoy sex, rebel against your aches and pains, and live out your passions.


Hearing in Children (co-author) (1974, 1978, 1984, 1991, 2002).
Auditory Disorders in School Children: Identification, Remediation (co-editor) (1988).
Auditory Disorders in School Children: The Law, Identification, Remediation (co-editor) (1981; 4th edition, 2004).
Shut Up and Live! A 93-Year-Old’s Guide to Living to a Ripe Old Age (2007).

Honors and awards[edit]

The Marion Downs Hearing Center[2] was named in Downs’ honor and opened in May 2005 on the campus of the University of Colorado Medical Center. She was inducted into the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame in 2006, and in 2007 received the Secretary’s Highest Recognition Award at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for her groundbreaking work and lifetime dedication promoting the early identification of hearing problems in children.

Downs has received two honorary doctorate degrees: a Doctor of Science from the University of Colorado and a Doctor of Human Services from the University of Northern Colorado. The University of Colorado’s School of Medicine awarded her the Gold Medal Recognition. The University of Minnesota gave her its Outstanding Achievement Award.

She has been awarded the Medal of the Ministry of Health of South Vietnam, and has been recognized with honors from nearly every professional hearing-related society including the American Academy of Audiology, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, and the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Society. She was a founder of the American Auditory Society and invited to present the prestigious Carhart Memorial Lecture in 1980. She received an Outstanding Service Recognition Award from the American Medical Association for her work in teaching audiology in Vietnam. She was among the early members of the International Audiology Society, and has served on numerous committees, boards, and task forces on local, national, and international projects. She served as the program chair for the International Audiology Congress on two occasions.

Other activities[edit]

She skied until she was 94, plays tennis regularly, and plans to compete in the 2009 National Senior Games in tennis. She has won five gold medals for tennis in the Senior Games. She turned 100 in January 2014.[3]


  1. ^ Joint Committee on Infant Hearing
  2. ^ Marion Downs Hearing Center Foundation
  3. ^ Matich, Erika (2014-01-28). "Marion Downs Hearing Center closer to new facility". News Releases. Anschutz Medical Campus. Retrieved 2014-01-30. 

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