By David H. Kirkwood
Editor’s Note: It’s never too late to say thank you, as this post, first published August 16, 2011, makes clear. Although mainstream media is giving a lot more attention to hearing aids these days, specifically their cost, the bedrock issues of prevention and management still get little press.
This week’s Hearing View is a letter of thanks and congratulations that I sent to Matt Lauer, host of NBC Television’s Today Show. Having spent about half my career as a journalist writing about hearing, I’ve been extremely frustrated by how little attention the mainstream media give to hearing loss and how to prevent it, cope with it, and treat it.
That’s why I wanted to let Matt Lauer and NBC know what a valuable service they provided with their segment on hearing loss on the August 10 Today Show. If you didn’t see it live, I suggest that you view it by clicking here.
I think you’ll agree that the broadcast did an excellent job of explaining how common and serious a problem hearing loss is. Lauer, who had his own hearing tested on the show, also effectively debunked some common myths about hearing loss—that it’s mostly something old people get, that hearing aids are something to be embarrassed about, that nothing can be done about it, etc.
The program wasn’t perfect. It focused too much on how invisible modern hearing aids are, and neglected to mention that patients with more severe losses may need less discreet instruments. However, for the most part, the program presented clear, straightforward information to viewers on why and how to have their hearing tested, how to prevent hearing loss, and, if they already have hearing loss, how to treat it.
Dear Mr. Lauer,
I’d like to congratulate you and NBC-TV for the outstanding segment on hearing loss that ran on the August 10 Today Show. In writing to you, I suspect I am also speaking for millions of other Americans who suffer from this often-neglected condition.
Your program gave all-too-rare public recognition of how common and how serious a problem hearing loss is. In doing this and in showing how effectively today’s advanced hearing aids can treat most cases of hearing loss, you provided an important service to your viewers.
Over the 20 years that I’ve been covering hearing health care, I’ve been shocked by how little attention the mainstream media pay to hearing loss. After all, it’s a condition that afflicts more than 30 million Americans of all ages. And, while people often make jokes about their old Aunt Molly being “as deaf as a post,” as you so clearly pointed out, hearing loss is no laughing matter. When it goes untreated–as it usually does–hearing loss detracts enormously from a person’s quality of life. It also takes a heavy toll on those closest to the person, since they may no longer be able to communicate easily and effectively with their spouse, parent, sibling, or close friend.
The Today Show effectively touched on the most common reasons that people fail to get the help they need for hearing loss. These include denial that they have it and the stigma associated with hearing loss and hearing aids. Jim McDade, the 39-year-old man you interviewed on the show, put it very well when he explained why he had been unwilling to get hearing aids, even though his condition was causing him to disengage from any social situation. He told you, “Someone with eyeglasses looks intelligent. Someone with hearing aids looks handicapped.”
But now that he wears them, McDade advises hearing-impaired viewers to do the same. And he tell them that if they don’t wear hearing aids, “You don’t know what you’re missing.”
You also dispelled the myth that hearing loss is essentially a condition of the elderly. As you reported, most people with impaired hearing are under age 65.
I commend you also for having Dr. Shelley Borgia test your hearing for the show. It demonstrated that a hearing test is no big deal. What’s more, it sent a powerful message to viewers. If a youthful 53-year-old television star is willing to have his hearing loss (albeit a mild one) revealed on national TV, shouldn’t they be willing to admit and address their own hearing loss?
In closing, thank you for a great program, and keep up the good work.
David H. Kirkwood