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Monday, July 14, 2014
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Published: Sunday, 4/20/2003

Hearing loss overlooked by too many

Who's your doctor? Dentist? Eye doctor?

People rattle off names of their health care providers without a hitch. Try this conversation-stopper the next time a group of people gathers:

Who's your audiologist?

People go to the eye doctor when vision fails. Regular dental exams are routine. When part of the body goes bad, you get it fixed.

What is it about the sense of hearing that makes people ignore hearing loss, or decide to just “live with it,” rather than get care?

Now hear this:

Hearing loss is one of the most common disorders in the United States. The National Institutes of Health estimates that hearing loss affects about 26 million people, including more than 40 percent of individuals over age 65.

For many, hearing loss has reached the point where it is a physical disability. Hearing loss sometimes is ranked as the No. 1 disability in older people.

Hearing loss means much more than having to turn the TV volume up and difficulty in communicating.

Studies show that older people with hearing loss have a higher risk of developing clinical depression, withdrawing from everyday activities and becoming isolated. They also have more difficulties with chronic diseases that often occur with advancing age.

And in a youth-oriented society, of course, they tend to get labeled unfairly as over the hill, less competent, and less attractive.

Yet 80 percent of people with hearing loss never seek care.

The stigma of wearing a hearing aid is one reason.

Much more important, however, may be the sad realities about hearing aids. They can be expensive; they aren't covered by Medicare or many other health insurance programs, and they sometimes have frustratingly poor performance.

Something is wrong when good hearing aids still cost so much in this era of plunging prices for other electronics products.

Something is wrong when people foot the bill and discover that the sound quality is unacceptable, or it carries a long learning curve to get used to the echoes, background noise, high-pitched feedback, and other distractions.

Eye care professionals sell corrective devices - make that eye glasses and contact lenses - custom-built to each individual's need. They may cost less than $200, and usually work instantly, with no nonsense.

Hearing loss should be fixable with the same ease and affordability.

The technology to do so could, and should, be developed.

Audiologists and other hearing-care professionals could learn another lesson from their eye-care colleagues.

Eye-care services are widely available and easily accessible in shopping malls, department stores, and elsewhere. Newspaper advertisements increase consumers' awareness about the service.

About 76 million Americans born in the 1946-1964 Baby Boom era are reaching the ages when hearing loss often occurs. Now hear this: They'd reap huge benefits from technology that makes hearing aids as easy to prescribe, affordable and accessible as eyeglasses and contacts.



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