It is hard to appreciate the impact of hearing loss on communication without experiencing it yourself. This makes it easy for the uninitiated to dismiss hearing loss as a “normal” part of aging and to ignore its many associated health issues.
Sometimes people with hearing loss do this too.
And now there is proof.
Cleveland Clinic recently surveyed 1,250 adults between 50 and 80 years of age living in the United States. Forty percent of participants used hearing aids and indicated they had at least moderate hearing loss. The remaining 60% did not use hearing aids and reported no hearing loss. The study showed that general hearing loss knowledge is limited relative to other health issues, and perhaps as a result, it is not prioritized as part of most people’s health maintenance routines. This needs to change.
Hearing Loss Knowledge Limited Relative to Other Health Issues
While 93%, 85%, and 52% of the 1,250 surveyed knew normal levels for vision, blood pressure and cholesterol, only 9% could identify a “normal” or “average” level of hearing. Perhaps it is because hearing loss is rarely screened. Hopefully this is changing, as routine doctor screening for hearing loss is among the recommendations of the National Academy of Sciences report entitled, “Hearing Health Care for Adults: Priorities for Improving Access and Affordability.”
Participants were also asked to rank the importance of addressing a variety of common health conditions. Only 27% of people indicated they were “very likely” to have their hearing evaluated, well below levels for having an eye exam (66%), a cholesterol test (70%) or even bringing their pet to the veterinarian (59%).
Most participants were unaware of the strong correlations between hearing loss and other health issues like diabetes, depression, a higher risk of falls, and dementia. Sadly, less than half believed that hearing loss was treatable and less than 20% felt it was preventable.
Clearly, much work is needed to educate the general public about hearing loss.
What Can We Do to Help Raise Awareness about Hearing Loss?
It will take a concerted effort by all parts of the hearing care industry to close the hearing loss information gap. Here are some ideas for how you can help. Please share yours in the comments.
1. Mobilize the medical community
Primary care doctors are the first line of contact for patients about their health. We must encourage them to regularly conduct hearing screenings and when needed, recommend further testing. Doctors should also highlight the many ways that hearing loss can be treated, including new upcoming OTC models for people with perceived mild to moderate hearing loss.
2. Build mainstream awareness about hearing loss
Mainstream media has embraced the Deaf experience, but this does little to raise awareness about hearing loss, which is far more common. We must continue to create written and video content about hearing loss for mainstream outlets in hopes of broader reach.
3. Talk to friends and family
Grass roots efforts can be very powerful. Hearing loss or not, get your hearing tested annually and recommend that your friends, family members and work colleagues do as well. And then tell people about it. We can all be ambassadors for better hearing health.
4. Hold educational sessions at local venues
Host a lecture at your place of worship, screen a hearing loss film like “We Hear You” at your workplace or introduce your book club to a hearing loss book like “Hear & Beyond.” The more we talk about hearing loss in a variety of settings, the more accepted it will become as a topic of interest.
5. Partner for greater impact
There is strength in numbers. When consumer and industry organizations work together, we have a better chance of attracting broader attention. Perhaps a well-funded partner could help produce PSAs or other awareness campaigns to increase our reach.
Despite its prevalence and overwhelming impact on daily life, hearing loss remains overlooked and misunderstood. But together, we can help make a change.
Shari Eberts is a passionate hearing health advocate and internationally recognized author and speaker on hearing loss issues. She is the founder of Living with Hearing Loss, a popular blog and online community for people with hearing loss, and an executive producer of We Hear You, an award-winning documentary about the hearing loss experience. Her book, Hear & Beyond: Live Skillfully with Hearing Loss, (co-authored with Gael Hannan) is the ultimate survival guide to living well with hearing loss. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, she will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues. Connect with Shari: Blog, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter.