Hearing Loss: No More Suffering in Silence? This widespread problem is associated with depression, isolation, and possibly, dementia. We report on affordable solutions and what’s being done to give everyone access to treatment.
By Julia Calderone
February 02, 2017
Age-related hearing loss has long been thought of as an inevitable part of getting older, more a nuisance than a life-altering medical condition—at least by those not experiencing it.
But that’s all changing.
In the past two years, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) and the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) have published reports calling untreated hearing loss a significant national health concern, one that’s associated with other serious health problems, including depression and a decline in memory and concentration. Several studies even suggest a link between hearing loss and dementia.
The estimated 48 million Americans affected by hearing impairment didn’t need that memo.
More than 100 years ago, Helen Keller, who was deaf and blind, described the isolation caused by hearing loss aptly when she said: “Blindness separates people from things. Deafness separates people from people.”
Lise Hamlin, director of public policy for the nonprofit Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) echoes that sentiment. “We’re social creatures,” she says. “When you shut down the ability to talk and interact with people, that isolation affects your health and your ability to participate in society.”
Recent research shows that the number of Americans of working age with hearing loss has declined slightly, but it continues to be a problem for seniors, affecting 28.6 million Americans ages 60 and older.
Despite the prevalence of hearing loss and the negative impact it can have on health and quality of life, relatively few people seek treatment. Almost half of the 131,686 Consumer Reports subscribers surveyed for our 2015 Annual Fall Questionnaire reported having trouble hearing in noisy environments, yet only 25 percent had their hearing checked in the previous year. And according to research published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, just 14 percent of those who could benefit from hearing aids actually use them.
People don’t seek help for several reasons. A common one, according to NAS, PCAST, and others, is that they can’t afford it. NAS reports that hearing aids cost an average of $4,700 per pair in 2013 and can climb to almost twice that price. And they’re usually not covered by health insurance or Medicare.
No wonder the market for less expensive, over-the-counter hearing helpers known as PSAPs (personal sound amplification products) is growing.
We dug deep to find out why hearing aids and treatment for hearing loss can be so costly, and what’s being done to bring solutions within reach. We also tried several PSAPs to determine whether they’re an affordable alternative to hearing aids for some people.
Here’s what we uncovered. [Full story]