We all have a need to understand and be understood.
1.5 Billion Have Hearing Loss Today
In 2021, the World Health Organization reported that 1.5 billion people worldwide suffer from hearing loss. By 2050, the WHO predicts that hearing loss will impact 2.5 billion ─ 1 in 4 people worldwide. Hearing loss affects people of all ages.
- Globally, over 1 billion young adults are at risk of permanent, avoidable hearing loss due to unsafe listening practices.
- In the U.S., the National Institutes of Health estimates that 1 in 3 people between the ages of 65 and 74 has hearing loss. Nearly 50% of those older than 75 are hard of hearing.
Untreated Hearing Loss Impacts Quality of Life
Straining to hear makes it hard to enjoy conversations with family and friends. Hearing loss can cause people to withdraw and become isolated. Many struggle in silence.
Hearing Health Impacts Mental Health
One study exploring the relationship between hearing loss and cognitive function in older adults concluded that augmenting hearing could help mitigate cognitive decline in later life and stem the rise of dementia. Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General cautioned:
"Our ability to hear is precious. Untreated hearing loss can have a devastating impact on people’s ability to communicate, to study and to earn a living. It can also impact on people’s mental health and their ability to sustain relationships."
Lack of Awareness
Lack of awareness about hearing health poses a substantial barrier to adequate care. Few primary care physicians (PCPs) evaluate patients' hearing as part of an annual physical exam. One study, "Determinants of Hearing Aid Use" identified "a general low priority placed on addressing Hearing Loss by health care providers."
Some patients are reluctant to initiate a conversation about hearing loss with their doctors. One study participant confessed,
"It’s embarrassing . . . it’s like I’m getting old."
PCPs Neglect Hearing Health
Research shows that for elderly adults in the U.S. who have annual household incomes of <$25,000,
"PCPs were dismissive or not helpful explaining about the importance of addressing hearing loss."
If PCPs neglected to give referrals to hearing specialists or audiologists, patients were less inclined to pursue their concerns about hearing loss.
What about Hearing Aids?
Hearing aids can help. But according to the WHO, only 17% of people struggling with hearing loss purchase and use hearing aids for a number of reasons.
83% of people with hearing loss don't have or use hearing aids.
Expense of Hearing Aids
For many, hearing aids are prohibitively expensive. The cost of hearing aids ranges from $2,200 to $7,000 per pair in the U.S. Medicaid coverage varies by state and the cost is not covered by most insurance plans. Participants in a 2018 study published in The Gerontologist shared:
"I know a lot of people with hearing difficulties; Medicare will not pay for hearing aids."
Self-Consciousness & Hearing Aids
Many people confessed that fear of being perceived differently affected their decision not to wear hearing aids. Some felt HAs would make them look "old, weak, and feeble," "cognitively diminished, poor communication partners, and generally uninteresting."
One woman admitted,
"I was in church one Sunday, and this young man said, “Oh Ms. XXX!” real loud, “You got hearing aids!” And then it embarrassed me so it just kind of blew my mind and I stopped wearing them."
Demographics & Hearing Aids
Race, ethnicity, and socio-economic factors also impact the choice to wear hearing aids. One study found that Non-Hispanic Blacks and participants with less than a high school education were significantly less likely to use HA.
Participants with higher incomes reported that their PCPs helped them through the often cumbersome process of acquiring HA. Data analyzed from the Health and Retirement Study shows that
Amplifying Sound Doesn't Help Understanding
Even people who use hearing aids can still have trouble understanding others clearly, especially in noisy environments. This often produces further aggravation. This popular hearing aid meme conveys the frustration many regularly experience, that hearing aids can't always distinguish similar-sounding words, like "kind" and "time."
Hearing Aids Aren’t Effective for Everyone
Depending on the type and severity of hearing loss, hearing aids can significantly help, especially if HL is diagnosed early. But once the tiny hair-like cells of the inner ear or the auditory nerve are damaged, hearing loss cannot be reversed. Hearing aids and cochlear implants can help only while some degree of hearing still exists.
For people with severe hearing loss, like Lorenzo, a Vietnam Veteran who served in the USMC, hearing aids won't offer a permanent solution. He shared with us,
“I wear hearing aids, but my hearing is going fast. Soon I will not hear anything.”