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Hearing Loss Facts

"The Invisible Handicap" - A Growing National Problem

  • Thirty-six million American experience hearing loss (American Academy of Audiology)
  • Those who have difficulty hearing can experience such distorted and incomplete communication that it seriously impacts their professional and personal lives, at times leading to isolation and withdrawal. (Better Hearing Institute)
  • "Loss of hearing is a serious life issue, a medical condition that is associated with physical, emotional, mental and social well-being. Depression, anxiety, emotional instability, phobias, withdrawal, isolation, lessened health status and lessened self-esteem have all been linked to uncorrected hearing loss." (National Council on Aging: Untreated Hearing Loss Linked to Depression, Anxiety, Isolation in Seniors)
  • Among seniors, hearing loss is the most prevalent medical condition, following arthritis and hypertension. (University of California, San Francisco – Department of Neurological Surgery)
  • There is a strong relationship between age and reported hearing loss: 18 percent of American adults 45-64 years old, 30 percent of adults 65-74 years old, and 47 percent of adults 75 years old or older have a hearing impairment. (National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders)

Studies have linked untreated hearing loss to:

  • Irritability, negativism and anger
  • Fatigue, tension, stress and depression
  • Avoidance or withdrawal from social situations
  • Social rejection and loneliness
  • Reduced alertness and increased risk to personal safety
  • Impaired memory and ability to learn new tasks
  • Reduced job performance and earning power
  • Diminished psychological and overall health

(Data gathered from Better Hearing Institute)

The Solution:

Hearing Aids

Better Hearing Institute:

  • Almost all (95 percent) of Americans with hearing loss can be treated with hearing aids. Only five percent of hearing loss in adults can be treated by surgery.
  • Nine out of ten hearing aid users report improvements in their quality of life.
  • The use of hearing aids is associated with reductions in anger, frustration, paranoia, anxiety and overall improvements in emotional stability.
  • Treatment of hearing loss will improve interpersonal relationships.
  • Most people who use hearing aids have improved social lives.
  • Successful treatment of hearing loss with hearing aids is associated with greater earning power.
  • Hard-of-hearing people are less likely to be discriminated against if they use hearing aids.

National Council on Aging groundbreaking study on hearing loss:

The survey of 2,300 hearing impaired adults age 50 and older found that those with untreated hearing loss were more likely to report depression anxiety and paranoia and were less likely to participate in organized social activities, compared to those who wear hearing aids.

Hearing aid users reported benefits in many areas of their lives. Specifically they reported improvement in:

  • Relations at home
  • Feelings about self
  • Life overall
  • Mental health
  • Self-confidence
  • Relations with children, grandchildren
  • Sense of safety
  • Social life
  • Relations at work

Dr. Cindy Beyer, audiologist and HearUSA senior vice president on today’s hearing aids:

Hearing aid technology has improved significantly in the last decade. Almost all hearing aids used today are digital; sound goes into a microphone and is digitally processed by a chip, amplified, then sent to the ear. Digital technology allows the aids to be programmed for an individual’s unique hearing loss and preferences – a big improvement over the old-fashioned analog varieties that were little more than an amplifier with a volume control.

Today’s hearing aids are smaller, smarter and more comfortable than before. Recent advancements have been effective at minimizing the age-old complaints of feedback, background noise, and occlusion – that “stuffed” feeling that comes from having something in your ear. Telephone coils improve traditional phone conversations and Bluetooth enables cell phone users to hear more clearly – with no wires and often with both ears.

Advanced hearing aid technology employs automatic signal processing to modify sound on the fly, reducing the frequent adjustments that were previously required. Remote controls and long life rechargeable batteries provide more balanced hearing and more convenience. The result is that the hearing aids are more effective in more situations, offering new solutions to the many communication demands on today's active lifestyle.

If hearing aids are so effective, why are so many millions who need them not buying them?

"When we set out to test hearing aids, we encountered the same challenges that hearing-aid shoppers face every day: a fragmented and confusing marketplace and difficulty sorting out good hearing-care providers from less capable ones.” (“Hearing Well in a Noisy World" – Consumer Reports, July 2009)

Consumer Reports found:

  • High prices
  • Mediocre fitting
  • Providers lacked knowledge

Why People Won’t Wear Hearing Aids

By Mark Ross, Ph.D., FAAA, Professor Emeritus at the University of Connecticut

(His paper was supported in part by a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, National Institute of Disability Rehabilitation Research)

High Cost

Hearing aids are expensive...There’s not much we can do about the cost of hearing aids. What has to be communicated to the prospective users is the life-changing possibilities of improved hearing, so they can weigh that value against the financial expenses... Hopefully, more public and private health insurance programs will be covering more of the cost of hearing aids and thus reduce the total burden for individuals.

Unrealistic Expectations

If one expects too much, one is sure to be disappointed. A hearing aid will not restore normal hearing. Sometimes it seems that a new user, after fighting the necessity of wearing a hearing aid for years, expects that his or her new aid will completely solve all previous listening problems. A hearing aid does not work that way. It is an aid, not an ear replacement.

When listening difficulties still occur, when one's own voice sounds strange and "stuffy," when one is suddenly aware of a world of strange noises, when some loud sounds actually cause pain and discomfort, it is easy to get discouraged and discard the hearing aid. Many of these problems can be ameliorated with audiological assistance; some take time to get used to, but can be lived with; and other problems will remain. The point is that one must enter into the hearing aid experience with realistic expectations. Does the aid offer sufficient listening advantages in important communicative situation?

Hearing aids are too expensive, and too potentially helpful, to be placed in dresser drawers rather than in people's ears.

Stigma and Vanity

(Dr. Cindy Beyer, audiologist and HearUSA senior vice president)

Although there appears to be a growing awareness that there is nothing shameful or negative about wearing hearing aids, the stigma associated with them still exists. It is very often the reason that people choose not to deal with their hearing loss, much to their detriment, and that of their families.

Some worry that hearing aids would make them look – and even feel – older. Others are concerned that wearing hearing aids imply diminished acuity. Yet, that is not the case with eyeglasses, which, rather than symbols of a handicap, have become fashion statements.

The fact is that today there are many styles of hearing aids to choose from. Some are very small and discrete, and others that are fashionably color coordinated to match wardrobes and lifestyles.

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