Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Hearing Loss in America

by Samantha Garcia

Diagram of the Ear
 If you have hearing loss, you are not alone – not by a long shot. As you might expect, some populations experience hearing loss in higher numbers. For instance, 1 in 3 people over the age of 60 and half of people over 85 experience some hearing loss. Additionally, hearing loss is the most common injury for veterans returning from Afghanistan and Iraq. In fact, Hearing Health Foundation states that 60% of returning veterans have hearing injuries.  However, hearing loss impacts more Americans of all classifications than you might expect; it is estimated that 1 in 5 Americans aged 12 and over, approximately 48 million Americans, have hearing loss in at least one ear.
With so many Americans experiencing hearing loss, it becomes profoundly important that those who do retain communication with others and stay connected. In fact, a 2011 study by Dr. Frank Lin of Johns Hopkins University has recently become a hot topic, as it found a strong connection between hearing loss and the risk of dementia, partially due to perceived isolation. His next study will focus on how hearing aids are used and if they can play any part in reducing the risk. 

One of Dr. Lin's findings shows that only 1 in 7 adults who could benefit from using a hearing aid actually does. The misuse or underuse of hearing aids is possibly due to the high cost of hearing aids, the increase of devices purchased online (without a fitting by an audiologist) and the stigma of using hearing aids. These may be critical factors in how hearing aids are used (or if they are used at all) and whether they can have any impact on this issue. If it turned out hearing aids could help delay the onset of dementia, imagine the possibilities – not least of all that insurance companies would perhaps be more likely to fully cover them. Some people have found pocket talkers to work well for them. A pocket talker is a portable amplifier that includes a microphone and headset and can be used for one-on-one or small group conversations or for radio/TV listening. Pocket talkers are much less expensive than hearing aids and cost around $120.

In the meantime, we know that hearing aids continue to be invaluable to individuals who are hard of hearing and those around them. According to hearingreview.com, hearing aid sales are up 2.9% from 2011 to 2012. Historically, the industry has seen a 3-4% increase, but in this economic climate, this is still seen as adequate growth. Additionally, veterans now account for 20% of the hearing aid market. Another interesting area of growth is that of Behind The Ear (BTE) hearing aids with external receivers, which now account for about half of all hearing aids sold in the U.S. – this is big leap, up from about 40% in 2011.

As devices change or you experiment with what type works best for you, you may find yourself wondering how to dispose of or find used hearing aids. If you use or need a hearing aid or know someone who does, there are multiple ways to donate and/or receive used devices. Hear Now, part of theStarkey Hearing Foundation, repairs and resells devices in the U.S. and uses that revenue to buy new hearing aids for those who can't afford them. You can also send devices to sertoma.org, which is working to make public facilities accessible for all. In California, you can donate to the John Tracy Clinic, which provides hearing device loaners to children. Moreover, Rotary Clubs often collect used hearing aids for repair and donation, as do service clubs like Lions Clubs, among others. Don't forget - donations are usually tax-deductible, too!
Have you had any experience donating or receiving a hearing aid from one of these or any other organizations? Have we missed a good resource? Let us know! Also, if you are in California and need an assistive hearing device, contact your AT Advocate by clicking here.


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