Why do people wait for 7 years to get help?
Approximately 15% of all American adults (37.5 million!) over the age of 18 have reported having some trouble hearing well. Of those, 50% of people aged 75 and over have disabling hearing loss. (NIH)
So why do people delay so long before addressing this important health situation? There are a number of issues at play here that factor into getting help in a timely way.
Denial and stigma: The biggest barriers to getting help. In the US, visible aging is undesirable due to Hollywood, the cosmetic and other corporate industries continually selling youth. Hearing loss is a normal part of aging, and getting assistance from an audiologist is a healthy and appropriate response.
Perception of weakness: The majority of hearing aid wearers are male, and in the US, men of the Baby Boomer generation have been taught to never appear weak. If aging = weakness, then related outward signs become something to avoid.
Options abound in today’s medicine: The clunky, whistling, putty-colored hearing aids of the past are long gone. The former era’s aids did not offer much help and caused much of the stigma we experience now. Today’s instruments are sleek and colorful, tiny and powerful. You have control over BlueTooth connections to your phone and tv.
There is even specially designed jewelry for wearers wanting an even bolder, modern option.
Poor workarounds: People with hearing loss are typically not the ones who struggle, but those around them deal with loud tvs and music, or repeating themselves too frequently, causing frustration and poor communication. Denial is covered in “It’s your problem, not mine.”
Slow loss of function: The nature of hearing decline is gradual, and so it becomes easy to ignore it past the point of easy conversational comprehension. Like eyesight, a gradual decline can be addressed with yearly visits to your audiologist and corrective adjustments to hearing aid settings, that maximize capacity.
Sudden onset of hearing loss is usually triggered by other health events and should be evaluated by an ENT immediately.
Invisible and subjective: Since this decline can’t be seen and is very subjective due to the individual’s lifestyle, it can be easy to miss for many years. Having a baseline hearing exam through an audiologist practice (not a hearing aid sales office) ensures that you have accurate data for how you are functioning in each separate ear.
Perceived cost: While neither Medicare, nor most secondary insurances, cover the cost of hearing instruments there are many great and affordable options. Most audiology practices also offer financing to eliminate the need for a large up-front expense. While the DIY / over-the-counter devices may look appealing (i.e., inexpensive), they lack the accuracy, and thus the ultimate benefit, of a properly fitted modern hearing instrument.
Confusion about where to get help: In today’s market, depending on which state you live in, there are multiple options for hearing support and they are all vying for attention.
Big box stores and direct-to-consumer businesses may offer lower costs, but you’re not paying for the expertise of the individual fitting the devices, the ongoing follow-up and support for your evolving life and hearing loss, and the service when your devices are no longer functioning correctly. Only individuals with very early, very mild hearing loss may be a candidate for this approach. Most of the aids end up in a drawer, as they are not suitable for more involved hearing issues, or for older adults with advanced hearing loss.
Hearing aid dealerships advertise good pricing, and may even have an audiologist on staff; however, these practices compete on price, not quality. Frequently, you are seen and fit by someone with basic training and a high-school degree, which is all that is required by most state laws. Many of these are chains and can be found in most cities.
Audiology practices provide comprehensive hearing evaluations, communicate with your primary physician, offer rehabilitative services and, ongoing follow-up care. They have university doctorates and are certified by the American Academy of Audiology, the American Board of Audiology, and often the American Speech, Language, Hearing Association. Audiologists are licensed by the New York State Department of Education and registered with the New York Department of State. Their expertise in hearing healthcare ensures you will receive sound, medically-based care and the maximum potential benefit from your hearing instruments.
For anyone that has put up with a loss of sound and less than-optimal communication for more than a year, a visit to your local audiologist is the next step.
Help is a quick phone call away to schedule a preliminary visit and hearing test.