“How does your program or service for older adults include hearing loss?” we asked each exhibitor at American Aging Society’s 2022 On Aging Conference. Most of the time we were met with silence, followed by, “That’s an interesting question. Well, we have links on our website to hearing loss resources for people, but it’s not a major part of what we do.”
“Where’s the hearing loss?” we continued to ask. It started to feel like we were in the 1980s Wendy’s commercial “Where’s the Beef,” as we traveled from booth to booth in search of the holy grail—someone who understood how important healthy hearing is to aging well and incorporated this knowledge into their product or service.
The same was true for the workshop content. Of the 363 sessions of various types and lengths, only two included the word “hearing” in their titles. And one of those was the session that Holly Cohen and I led entitled “Hearing Loss & Aging Go Hand in Hand: How Addressing Hearing Loss is Critical for Positive Aging.”
Hearing Loss & Aging Do Go Hand-in-Hand
While hearing loss is not limited to older adults—according to the Better Hearing Institute, 65% of hearing loss is found in people under the age of 65—its prevalence increases markedly with age. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Communication Disorder (NIDCD), 8.5% of adults aged 55-64 experience hearing loss. This statistic jumps to 25% in adults aged 65-74 and 50% in adults over 75 years of age.
Given these metrics, it’s impossible to consider or study healthy aging without including the impact of hearing loss.
Our goal for the conference was to raise the profile of hearing loss in the large and rapidly growing industry that serves older adults. Our presentation included hearing loss statistics like those above and brought the lived hearing loss experience to life via our documentary We Hear You. We also shared actionable ways that attendees could help support people with hearing loss in both their personal and professional lives.
The session was well-attended and the discussion of the issues lively. But perhaps a bit disappointingly, all attendees had some personal relationship to hearing loss. Were we simply preaching to the converted?
Where are the Accommodations?
Since the topic of hearing loss was not front and center at the conference, neither were accommodations for people with hearing loss. None of the sessions offered CART or other communication assistance. Despite a strong sound system and seats in the front, we had a difficult time following the kick-off plenary session, and so did our speech-to-text apps.
We were disappointed to miss much of what seemed like quite an inspirational keynote.
Prior to the conference, we requested CART captioning for our session. Since the conference required masking, we wondered how we would hear questions from the audience. Plus, we had hoped to show off this fabulous communication tool to the attendees. Unfortunately, the conference denied our request.
How to provide appropriate accommodations for people with hearing loss remains an area ripe for continued education and advocacy.
We Must Raise the Profile of Hearing Loss
How can we help those not personally affected by hearing loss to better understand its impact on all aspects of a person’s life? And perhaps more importantly, how can we get hearing loss training and support included in the products and services that reach the people most affected by it? Hopefully our “where’s the hearing loss?” discussions in the exhibit hall will have some impact.
But more work is needed, perhaps through partnerships between aging-focused organizations like AARP and the American Society on Aging and those that serve the hearing loss population on both the consumer and professional side.
Would an audiologist professional society like AAA or ADA benefit from exhibiting at an aging conference? Or vice versa? What about a consumer organization like Hearing Loss Association of America?
Better coordination between these constituents would certainly benefit older adults by increasing the likelihood that hearing loss identification and treatment is included in their ongoing care.
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.