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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.