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Hearing Aids Improve Quality of Life

Talk about good vibrations! The buzz among audiologists and other ear care professionals is that hearing aids can vastly improve the quality of your life.

How? By processing sounds and reducing unwanted noises, hearing aids allow you to do things and participate in activities you like and enjoy. You dont have to grin and bear it just grin and hear it!

Numerous international studies conducted over the past several years show a clear correlation between good hearing and an enhanced quality of life. A survey by Better Hearing Institute (BHI), a Washington D.C. area-based non-profit organization that educates the general public about the hearing loss, treatment and prevention, shows that nine out of 10 Americans who have hearing aids enjoy a higher quality of life. The satisfaction level increases even further with the use of digital hearing instruments (as opposed to older analog models), which grew in popularity from only 5% in 1998 to a staggering 90% in 2005.

And just recently, the Journal of the American Academy of Audiology (AAA) published the findings of a research study into the benefits of hearing aids. Conducted since 2003 by the AAAs aptly named Task Force on the Health-Related Quality of Life Benefits of Amplification in Adults, the studys message is loud and clear: hearing aids do make life easier and better by improving communication, social interaction, and overall lifestyle.

Noises Off

Hearing aids today provide much more help than in years past, particularly with directional microphones which help in noisy situations, says Theresa Hnath Chisolm, Ph.D., Professor and Chair of Department of Communication Sciences & Disorders at the University of South Florida, a Task Force member who participated in the AAAs study. People with hearing aids are doing activities they did not do before, for example, watching television without the spouse complaining that the TV is too loud, or they are able to have a conversation. There are also less feelings of isolation as a result of better communication from better hearing.

The AAAs study was based on a systematic review of the existing evidence-based practice techniques that objectively evaluated the results of experiments analyzing an individuals self-perceived health-related quality of life, which, Chisolm says, refers to the functional effects of an illness or condition on a persons daily life.

The research studies we reviewed used valid tests developed both in audiology and in other areas of healthcare, such as psychology, Chisolm explains. When we looked at the performance on the measures as a whole, we saw significant improvements. And when we combined the results of the studies using the mathematical techniques of meta-analysis we had a statistically significant benefit.

In laymans terms this means that, by improving social, emotional, psychological, and physical well-being, hearing aids have the potential to transform lives.

Not Always Within an Earshot

Unfortunately, the message that deserves to be heard all too often falls literally on deaf ears. Published statistics indicate that some 28 million Americans suffer from hearing loss, but only about one in five of those people wear a hearing aid.

There are multiple reasons why people dont use hearing aids, Chisolm says. Many may not be aware of the impact that the hearing loss has on their lives. For most adults, hearing loss is a gradual process and they often do not notice it right away. Even when they do notice the hearing loss, they may have many misconceptions about hearing aids. While cosmetics might still be an issue for some individuals, the new open fit hearing aids are barely visible.

Other reasons may have to do with the cost of hearing aids, which are generally not reimbursed by most health plans or by Medicare. Many people, especially those on fixed incomes, may find the price ranging from $1,000 to $5,000 prohibitive. According to BHI, two out of three people ages 55 and above say that affordability is a key reason for their inability to treat hearing loss.

However, the health and lifestyle benefits of a hearing aid, Chisolm says, make the investment worthwhile. The issue is to get people to try hearing aids in the first place. Once they do, and they realize the benefits, then the cost relative to the improvements they have in their quality of life will make hearing aids worth the cost.

As the studys findings reveal, better life is in the ear of the beholder.

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