Hearing and sight are arguably our two most important senses. Yet, if and when either starts to fail us (and both usually do as we age), we react to each quite differently.
Look around at all the people with glasses, contacts, Lasik surgery or just cheaters, and it’s obvious that we have no problem or hesitation with treating vision issues.
But when it comes to treating hearing loss, we don’t seem to be in nearly such a hurry, if we even bother to treat it at all. If we did, nearly one in six adults you see would be wearing hearing aids — as that’s the number of U.S. adults with hearing loss.
What’s stopping us from treating hearing loss?
Why is there such discrepancy when it comes to “fixing” these two vital senses? Certainly a key factor is the immediate and tangible impact of each impairment. You can’t easily drive, read, watch TV or work at a computer when your vision is compromised. But you can cope with or work around hearing issues — at least temporarily.
It’s important to know, though, that while the immediate impact of compromised hearing may seem negligible, the long-term and overall quality-of-life impact is real and potentially severe.
Is our perception of hearing aids to blame?
Another reason for inaction comes from people’s perception of hearing loss and hearing aids. Unfortunately, some old myths linger. But advancements in science and technology mean many are no longer true. Let’s debunk five common ones now.
1. Fiction: There’s no treatment for hearing loss.
Fact: Hearing loss might be irreversible — but it can definitely be helped. Amplification with hearing aids is by far the most recommended and effective treatment for hearing loss. In fact, 90-95% of people with hearing loss can be treated with hearing aids. Custom programmed by a trained professional, today’s digital hearing aids can help people with even severe hearing loss hear sounds they might not otherwise hear, and be a part of things they might otherwise miss.
2. Fiction: If I needed hearing aids, my doctor would have told me.
Fact: Actually, most busy general practitioners don’t have time to test for hearing loss. In a recent survey, only 23% of adults reported having their hearing screened during a physical exam. Even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) highlighted the issue this past February, reinforcing to physicians the importance of catching hearing loss in the early stages, and reminding primary care providers to “make referrals to hearing specialists” when “patients show or report hearing problems.”
3. Fiction: Hearing aids are hard to use.
Fact: Today’s hearing aids have come a long way from the hearing aids of just a few years ago. Advancements in processing speeds and hearing science enable hearing aids to distinguish speech from noise, detect sound direction, and adjust to environments and specific sounds — all automatically. If fit and programmed by a hearing professional to your unique hearing needs, your hearing aids can be worn all day with little fuss, attention or adjustments required.
4. Fiction: Hearing aids will make me stand out or seem old.
Fact: Several things conflict with this perception, so take your pick.
• Today’s hearing aids are significantly smaller and more discreet than hearing aids from just a few years ago, and include options that fit deep in your ear canal, “invisible” to others.
• Wearable communication and health-monitoring devices like FitBits and Bragi — along with the pervasiveness of headphones — have made body-worn accessories commonplace and even trendy.
• Old is a perception, and adults who hear confidently and engage readily convey “old” much less than those who ask “what” all the time, don’t acknowledge when someone is talking to them, or disengage from the action.
5. Fiction: Hearing aids aren’t worth it.
Fact: It’s one thing for us to tout the impact that hearing your best can have on quality of life, and quite another to hear it from people who’ve treated their hearing loss.