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Why Identifying Unrecognized Hearing Loss Is So Important

Over 48 million Americans have hearing loss, with estimates of global numbers set to reach in the hundreds of millions in just a few short decades. Though hearing loss is an extremely prevalent condition, it often goes undiagnosed and untreated. Despite the high prevalence of age-related hearing loss, many adults still have hearing loss that never gets recognized, or they choose to forgo treatment options altogether. Older populations may miss the subtle changes in their hearing as they age because the onset is often gradual and slow, or possibly, they do not recognize the subtle changes they are making to compensate for their impaired hearing, such as increasing the volume on television sets or audio devices. To understand how some patients can have hearing loss without even realizing it, a study conducted by Wayne State University observed two groups of adults with and without hearing loss, had given them hearing screenings and had concluded with astounding results.

The Risks of Unrecognized Hearing Loss

Hearing loss can present serious risks for patients who do not seek treatment. Unfortunately, many struggling with hearing loss can wait up to 15 years to finally seek help. Research has shown a clear correlation between hearing loss and serious health complications such as depression, anxiety, a higher risk of suicide, and developing dementia. Communication difficulties are also common, as hearing loss causes higher rates of social isolation and a diminished quality of life. However, a majority of hearing aid users report satisfaction with their device, expressing a better quality of life while protecting their hearing for the long term.
Hearing loss is far more dangerous when unrecognized or undiagnosed. Early identification and intervention are critical for positive long-term outcomes when treating hearing loss. According to a 2012 study by Barbara Hutchinson of North Dakota State University, “In fact, adults who delay treatment until their hearing loss is severe do not respond to interventions as well as those who initiate interventions early in the course of their hearing loss.”

Wayne State University’s Conclusions and Recommendations

Self-defined as aiming “to explore characteristics that differentiate adults with unrecognized hearing loss from those with recognized hearing loss and adults with normal hearing”, researchers could determine how likely it was that a participant who described themselves as having no hearing issues, actually had unrecognized hearing loss. As part of the study, participants would complete a subjective and objective assessment of their physical health, various measures of cognition, and personality assessment of their traits for positive and negative affectivity (emotionality).
The results had proven researchers worry about unrecognized hearing loss to be true. “Participants who volunteered for the normal hearing group underwent hearing screens using a portable audiometer as part of the research study. Of the 69 adults who volunteered for that group, our hearing screens indicated that only 39 had hearing in the normal range. Unrecognized hearing loss was identified in 30 volunteers who had described themselves as having no hearing difficulty.”
The study’s research team had concluded that there is a sizeable subset of patients “who are likely to deny hearing difficulty upon questioning but have meaningful hearing loss.”, going as far as to recommend that new research should explore the best practices in psychoeducation about hearing screening that targets patients who do not endorse hearing loss.
If you believe you are suffering from signs of hearing loss but are not completely sure, it’s time to speak to a hearing health professional for a hearing evaluation. Unrecognized hearing loss should not go untreated.

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Why More People Should Be Wearing Hearing Aids (And Why They Choose Not To)

Hearing aid technology has seen miraculous advancements since their bulky predecessors of the 1970s, with new devices performing more like supercomputers than listening devices. Utilizing artificial intelligence, smartphone capability, and even reading your brain activity, some hearing aids are truly out of this world, helping millions across the globe bring sound back into their lives. Though the technology is impressive, studies continue to show that many choose to forgo hearing aids altogether, even when they can directly benefit. Whether you have obvious hearing loss or still aren’t sure, health experts are indicating that more Americans should be wearing hearing aids.

Hearing Loss is Extremely Common

Whether it is profound or mild, many Americans have hearing loss; 48 million in fact! Hearing loss is not an adult-only problem either, as every 2 to 3 children out of 1000 are born with a detectable level of hearing loss. Unfortunately, the estimates continue to grow. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), over 900 million people may suffer from hearing loss by 2050 across the globe. This is an alarming statistic, as hearing loss comes with many challenges, risks, and quality of life issues for those affected. Untreated hearing loss has been linked to increased risk of dementia, accidental falls, depression, and hospitalizations, making this common impairment a public health concern.

Why Some Decide Against Hearing Aids

Though technology and treatment options have become more advanced, a big percentage of hearing loss cases still go untreated. Various surveys have found that many struggling with hearing loss will wait years before purchasing hearing aids even though their hearing loss is known, some as long as 15 years! Why is this? Unfortunately, there is no simple answer.
Research indicates that stigma plays a large role in the decision-making process of whether to wear hearing aids. A 2009 study published by Dr. Margaret Wallhagen of the University of California San Francisco found that many patients associated hearing loss with aging or being handicapped. “Some people feared that wearing a hearing aid would make them appear unattractive.” explains Dr. Wallhagen, “They worried about the technology drawing attention to their ears and emphasizing their hearing loss.”
Cost is another worry for many. Though most indicate satisfaction with their device after purchasing, many patients believe they may not be worth the price before making the commitment.

What Experts Are Saying

Using hearing aids has been proven to minimize the risks involved with hearing loss and can truly improve the lives of patients. “Instead of worrying about ‘looking old,’ realize that hearing aids are a gift for you, your family, your friends, and everyone else you interact with,” says Dr. Steven Rauch, an otologist with Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts Eye and Ear, “They make everyone’s lives better.”
If you are struggling with hearing loss and have concerns, speak to a hearing health professional to learn about affordable and effective treatment options. Hearing aids will not only protect your health in the long term but will allow you to hear the things that matter to you today.

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Assistive Listening Systems and Your Hearing Prerogative

With over 48 million Americans across the country and an astounding 466 million worldwide suffering from disabling hearing loss, staying up to date with advancing technology and new laws and regulations may be the difference between accessing your right to hear in public and private settings or struggling to receive the help you’re entitled to. Thanks to the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), everyone has the right to hear in public places, making sure that if public address systems are used, an assistive listening system (ALS) is available for those with hearing loss as well. With numerous types of ALS systems available, technology has made it much easier to increase your quality of life while in public settings, whether they help eliminate background noise, or are discretely hidden to aid you without needing to use and return noticeable devices.

What Type of ALS’ Are There?

Fortunately, finding venues with an ALS should be simple thanks to ADA guidelines. To abide by the ADA’s Standards for Accessible Design, venues must have signs that properly show that they utilize assistive listening systems by displaying the blue international symbol, and numerous types of systems must be made available upon request with strict standards, right down to the size of audio jacks.

1. Hearing Loops

The most widely used and preferred ALS, hearing loops are a discretely hidden wire that surrounds a seating area that plugs into an amplifier and PA system. The loop then converts sound from the PA system into an electromagnetic signal that is received and translated into sound by telecoils found in most hearing aids.

 2. WiFi Systems

Though these do not follow ADA guidelines and are not an acceptable ALS system in the eyes of the law, WiFi systems are becoming increasingly popular with the rise of smartphones and tablets. While audio is streaming, sound is delivered through a WiFi connection to an appropriate app on your smartphone or tablet. Unfortunately, this requires attendants to use their own device as a receiver, failing to reach the ADA’s requirement of equal access.

3. RF Systems

Requiring a receiver that you must borrow from the venue, RF systems are becoming less popular for more convenient and user-friendly listening systems. Utilizing radio frequencies, RF systems transmit sound to receivers and earbuds like a personal radio. Though the ADA Compatibility Mandate required RF systems to be upgraded in 2012, they are still drastically lacking in technology compared to other systems.

You Have A Right To Hear

Assistive listening systems are increasing the quality of life for the millions of users with hearing loss by fulfilling their right to hear. Thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act, whether it be concert halls, transportation hubs, or places of worship, systems such as the Hearing Loop or WiFi are ensuring that hearing loss will not stop you from participating in the joyful activities of your daily life. Whether you wear hearing aids or are struggling with untreated hearing loss, it’s important to know your rights when it comes to hearing in public places.

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The Importance of Child Hearing Screenings and Their Impact on Hearing Loss

Hearing loss is the number one congenital disability in the United States. Whether the hearing loss is congenital or an acquired hearing loss, the consequences of hearing loss can be devastating if left untreated. Even a slight hearing loss can cause speech and language delays that are considered to be educationally significant. These children can have emotional difficulties, perform poorly in school and can suffer from personal-social maladjustments. A child hearing screening is an essential tool in dealing with the loss of hearing. The school hearing screening’s impact on hearing loss is the subject of a new study.

The Problem

Children in North Carolina receive screenings only before the beginning of public school. This practice goes against the recommendations of several organizations guidelines that suggest testing throughout multiple grades. Because of this, hearing loss may go untreated in many children. Because of the potential negative impact of hearing loss on auditory learning and communication, researchers are looking at the effects that screening procedures have on outcomes.

Study Methods

1.181 children in grades kindergarten through ninth grade received a screening at a charter school during the fall of 2016. Two years after this, 862 children in grades kindergarten through eighth grade underwent testing to replicate the previous study findings and to collect additional data if possible. Two hearing healthcare professionals, two speech-language pathologists, and a large group of graduate students took part. The protocol for the screening includes:

  • All children in the study receive a screening at 1, 2, 4, and 6 kHz at 20 dB HL with a minimum of two stimuli before recording a response or no response to the stimuli.
  • The children who fail at least one frequency receive rescreening at 20 dB as a check for reliability. The examiners remove the headphones and reinstruct the child.
  • Any failure to respond at one or more frequencies in either ear is a failure at 25 dB HL.
  • A rescreening of children within three weeks by a clinician who is not familiar with the initial results will need scheduling and a referral for a diagnostic evaluation if they do not pass the rescreening is also a possibility.
  • A hearing healthcare professional will administer otoscopy and tympanometry on all children who fail the initial screening.

Results

According to the conclusions of the study, a comparable number of children failed the screenings for pure tone in 2016 and 2018. This finding suggests that the results are replicable. All of the children failing the rescreening were part of distribution across grades with the majority of failures concentrated in third grade in 2016 and fifth grade in 2018. The otoscopy and tympanometry findings were abnormal in four percent of the children in the 2016 screening and three percent in the 2018 testing. Those students passing the pure tone rescreening at 25 dB received a referral for medical intervention. The results indicate that the screening criterion increases the failure rate of the initial screening.

Indications

The study indicates that a school-wide hearing screening can identify more children with potential hearing loss. More research should take place to recommend universal screening criteria. Although the authors recommend diagnostic testing following a screening, the study indicates that parents are not prone to follow up even when the testing is free. These and other barriers to compliance must receive exposure.