Hearing and sight are arguably our two most important senses (despite taste getting a lot of attention these past 18 months). Yet, if and when either starts to fail us — and both typically do as we age — we react to each very differently.
You can tell by all the people with glasses, contacts, Lasik surgery or cheaters that we have no problem or hesitation treating vision issues.
But when it comes to treating hearing loss, we don’t appear to take it as seriously. If we did, nearly one in six adults would be wearing hearing aids — as that’s the ratio of U.S. adults with hearing loss, and hearing aids are the most proven way to treat hearing loss.
What’s stopping us from treating hearing loss sooner?
Why is there such discrepancy when it comes to “fixing” these two vital senses?
One obvious factor is the immediate and tangible impact of each impairment. Driving, reading, watching TV, and working at a computer are difficult when your vision is compromised. But hearing loss doesn’t come with similar overt challenges. You can still maneuver your way through life relatively unhindered as your hearing fades. Plus, you can cope with or work around hearing issues — at least in the short term.
Our perception of hearing aids needs to change
Another reason for inaction comes from people’s perception of hearing loss and hearing aids. Unfortunately, old perceptions linger. We all probably have heard stories or know someone who had big beige hearing aids that squeaked and squealed.
But advancements in science, technology and design mean most of these perceptions are no longer reality. These five hearing aid perceptions certainly are.
Perception #1 — There is no treatment for hearing loss
Reality — While it’s true that hearing loss is irreversible, it absolutely can be helped. Amplification with hearing aids is by far the most recommended and effective treatment for hearing loss and is proven to work even for people with severe hearing loss.
Programmed and fit by an experienced hearing professional, today’s hearing aids can help even the hardest hearing among us hear sounds they might not otherwise hear and be a part of things they might otherwise miss.
Perception #2 — If I needed hearing aids, my doctor would have told me
Reality — Truth be told, most busy general practitioners don’t have time to test for hearing loss unless it’s specifically requested. In fact, in a recent national poll, 80 percent of adults over 50 said their doctor hadn’t asked about their hearing in the past two years, and one-third of people have gone more than a decade (at least) without getting their hearing tested.
Even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has called out the issue, reminding physicians in their Vital Sense publication of the importance of catching hearing loss in the early stages, and recommending they refer patients to hearing specialists when they show or report hearing problems.
Perception #3 — Hearing aids are hard to use
Reality — While hearing aids have become far more technologically advanced than the hearing aids of just a few years ago, they’ve also become significantly easier to use.
From rechargeable technology that makes it, so you don’t have to worry about batteries, to built-in artificial intelligence (AI) and sophisticated audio processing technology that instantly and automatically distinguishes speech from noise, detects sound direction, and adjusts to environments and specific sounds — the best of today’s hearing aids are designed to make better hearing effortless.
Yes, if you enjoy tinkering with technology and taking advantage of advanced features and apps, you can absolutely nerd out at all the things today’s hearing aids can do.
But if the only work you want to put in is putting them on in the morning and taking them off before bed, your hearing professional can set them up so you don’t have to fuss with them or think about them all day in between.
Perception #4 — Hearing aids will make me stand out or seem old
Reality — Hearing aid stigma is still a real thing, though it’s quickly waning for at least three good reasons:
1. AirPods, earbuds and headphones are now so pervasive that no one thinks or looks twice if you’re sporting something in your ear.
2. And even if you are worried about that, today’s hearing aids are much smaller and more discreet than hearing aids from even five years ago and include options that hide deep in your ear canal, invisible to others.
3. Old is a perception, and adults who hear confidently and engage easily come across as a lot less “old” than those who ask “what” all the time, don’t acknowledge when someone is talking to them, or disengage from the action.
Perception #5 — Hearing aids aren’t worth it
Reality — Whether it’s the endless studies showing the physical, mental, and quality-of-life issues caused by untreated hearing loss, or the countless hearing aid wearers who have said “they changed my life” or “I wish I would have done it sooner,” we respectfully beg to differ.
If hearing loss is making your life more challenging or less fun, now is the time to change your perception of hearing aids.