While 38 million Americans have some degree of hearing loss, of those who are older than 70, only 30 percent have hearing aids. While age is the greatest predictor of hearing loss, the average senior waits seven years to address it. The effects of living with diminished hearing include social isolation which can lead to poorer health consequences. Men are more likely than women to experience hearing loss.
Why do Seniors Wait?
The primary reason cited by experts is simple denial. Additionally, there is a perceived stigma associated with wearing hearing aids. Price is also a significant factor. With median incomes of those 75+ of around $32,000, at close to $5,000 for a sophisticated pair of hearing aids, seniors delay the decision or look for less sophisticated and less expensive alternatives. Delay worsens the isolation.
The Shock of Discovery
Seniors who have delayed obtaining hearing aids and have become increasingly isolated, the experience of finally being able to hear properly when they get help can experience quite a shock. It is a positive shock, to be sure, when they experience reconnecting with family members. It is also a shock when they understand what the devices do – and do not – fix. All of a sudden, the noisy environments of stores, restaurants, office buildings and streets requires adjustments. Of course, there is the adjustment of the device itself, but user training and the setting of personal expectations is critical.
Audiologists and Social Isolation
The role of hearing professionals dealing with older adults will involve more focus and consideration of the whole person and the degree to which they have been isolated from others as a result of their hearing loss. Unless managed with that in mind, the initial satisfaction level for hearing aid recipients can be problematic.
Affordability is Changing
Although hearing aids are not covered by Medicare, but as of 2017, Medicare Advantage plans are beginning to contribute a portion of the cost of hearing aids. Therefore, there will be more seniors eligible (and hopefully leveraging) benefits from hearing aids. There is recent talk in Congress about expanding hearing assistance for seniors.