Hearing loss is often misunderstood or ignored, and as a result is often not treated. Yet without hearing assistance, people can experience poor communication and understanding, which can lead to fractured relationships, isolation, an increased risk of illness, and even potential progression to dementia.
Why don’t people get hearing aids? Sometimes it’s from not understanding the benefits. Often, it’s the high cost. Some people worry about the perceived stigma, and others lack access to appropriate care. Other times, it’s frustration with even the most technically advanced hearing aids. Even with hearing aids, sometimes people cannot sort out the sounds well, and background noise can add confusion.
But there are answers and there is help.
What should you (or your friend or loved one) do if you can’t hear well?
- Read more about hearing loss and others’ journey through it. Try Shari Eberts’ blog, Gael Hannan’s website and blog, and Katherine Bouton’s website and books, Living Better with Hearing Loss and Shouting Won’t Help: Why I and 50 Million Others Can’t Hear You.
- The Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) has a step-by-step guide and resources available for people to treat and manage their hearing loss.
- See an audiologist. An audiologist is a health care professional qualified to do a thorough evaluation of your hearing. The audiologist can determine your type and degree of hearing loss and whether you can be helped by hearing aids. The audiologist will recommend a treatment program to assist you with your communication needs and, if indicated, may recommend a medical evaluation. Find a qualified audiologist at www.audiology.org or www.asha.org.
- Learn about hearing aids. Online information is plentiful (e.g., the Hearing Loss Association of America’s website). For more in-depth information, see the Consumer’s Guide to Hearing Aids, a booklet illustrating the different styles of hearing aids and comparing different models and features.
- Ask for hearing assistive devices at theaters, conferences, and other places of large gatherings. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that you be provided with hearing assistance if you need it. Even with hearing aids, clarity can be an issue, and so can the need to filter out extraneous noise. For a good discussion of assistive listening devices, click here. For a comparison of large area assistive listening systems, click here.
- Contact the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) for resources available for people with hearing loss. Contact HLAA-WA for support groups in the Seattle-King County area that can offer assistance, tips, and ideas to help adjust to hearing loss.
- Financial Assistance: Programs exist for all ages and stages of hearing loss. For more information about national programs, click here. Locally, see the Northwest Access Fund’s Hearing Aid Funding Resources.
Hearing loss is common. About 20 percent of Americans (48 million) report some degree of hearing loss. By age 65, one in three people has hearing loss, but only one-fifth of people who could benefit from a hearing aid are wearing one. For those 70 and older, fewer than 30 percent has worn hearing aids, and even fewer people under 65 do so. Even among hearing aid users, most have lived with hearing loss for more than 10 years before seeking a hearing aid. And even for people with hearing aids, those are not a total solution.
Use the month of May—Better Hearing Month—to evaluate your hearing and that of others you suspect may have hearing loss. And then take action for better hearing!