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Throughout her career, Marion Downs fought tirelessly for hearing screening in newborns and for early intervention for those found with hearing problems. Downs directed the audiology program at the University of Denver from 1951 to 1959. 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 would be the functioning. This practice was reported at a time when most children did not receive hearing aids until three years of age. Scientific neurological reports later confirmed their theory.
In 1959, Downs became a faculty member at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, where she investigated behavioral responses of newborns to sound. Her 1964 report introduced the possibilities of newborn screening. She suggested the formation of a National Joint Committee on Infant Screening and chaired the committee in its first years. This multi-professional committee has been responsible for promoting the methodologies of screening and follow-up. Research by Dr. Christine Yoshinaga-Itano of the University of Colorado validated the need for early intervention, and soon the screening occurred in all 50 states.
In her generation of audiology professionals, Downs served a unique leadership role. She published over 100 articles in professional journals, chapters in medical and audiological books; and co-authored Hearing in Children, Auditory Disorders in School Children, and Congenital Deafness. One of her books, Shut Up and Live: A 93-Year-Old’s Guide to Living to a Ripe Old Age, reflected her philosophy of life.
The Marion Downs Hearing Center, which opened in May 2005 at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center on the Anschutz Medical Campus, was named in her honor. The Center promotes her lifelong dream to provide every service for ear and hearing problems under one roof—for those from birth to old age. Downs had an active life well into her nineties. In addition to fundraising for the Center, writing and teaching, she played tennis regularly, skied until the age of 95, and kept up with her family—three adult children and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Read more about her work at: