Safety Concerns Influence One in Five New Users to Adopt Hearing Aids

Mary is a manager at a car rental agency. One day, because she had hearing loss, she didnt hear an approaching car and was not able to get out of its way in time. Luckily, she only suffered bruises.

Mary was fitted for hearing aids at Audiology Professionals, the office of Drs. Lesley Ericsson and Susan DeBondt, audiologists in Sarasota FL. When Mary arrived at our offices, there was no doubt in her mind about the value of good hearing on the job, Dr. Ericsson says. Safety concerns arise frequently among our patients.

Another of Dr. Ericssons and Dr. DeBondts patients, Lorraine, lives with her 10-year-old grandson and, since she has hearing loss, she worries about her and the grandsons safety. Her solution is to wear at least one hearing aid around the clock. Even with the addition of phones and smoke alarms with extra loud ringers or flashing lights, she was unwilling to give up the security her hearing aids afforded her, Dr. Ericsson says.

The Power of Hearing Aids: Loud and Clear

Mary and Lorraine are two of an estimated 31 million people in the United States with partial hearing loss. This figure is expected to rise as the baby boomer generation ages and life expectancies increase.

While age-related hearing loss is irrevocable, hearing aids amplify sound so people who wear them hear better. There is a well-documented correlation between good hearing and an enhanced quality of life. A survey, conducted several years ago by the National Council on the Aging, showed that most hearing aid users reported significant improvements in their relationships and their level of self-esteem after they started using hearing aids. Another survey, by Better Hearing Institute (BHI), shows that nine out of 10 Americans who have hearing aids enjoy a higher quality of life because of improved communication, social interaction, mental state, and overall lifestyle.

Dr. Ericsson cites the example of a patient, a retired forest ranger with multiple disabilities, including impaired hearing. Hearing aids, however, give him the freedom and security to venture outdoors, where he can enjoy the sounds of nature, she says

But even with such clear and proven benefits, far too many people do not get fitted for a hearing aid, leaving themselves vulnerable to preventable accidents.

The I Dont Need It Argument

Published statistics indicate that only about one in five people who need a hearing aid actually wears one.

Given the consequences, why do more than 22 million adults with hearing loss in the United States delay or avoid a hearing solution? asks BHIs executive director Dr. Sergei Kochkin, in the April 2007 issue of The Hearing Journal.

This may be a simple question, but the answer is more complex. The cost of hearing aids, which are generally not reimbursed by most health plans or by Medicare, may be one of the reasons for the reluctance. Many people, especially those on fixed incomes, 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.

Then there are those who are in denial, insisting they dont need a hearing aid, when they clearly do. In a culture obsessed with a youthful image, minimizing conditions associated with old age and disability such as hearing loss -- is a human reaction. However, BHI says that hearing impairment affects all age groups. Only 35 percent of people with hearing loss are over 64. Nearly six million Americans between the ages of 18 and 44 suffer from hearing loss, and more than one million are school age kids.

Still, the mix of denial and vanity remains a stumbling block on the road to better hearing and to improved safety as well.

The Sound of Silence: Not Hearing the Dangers Around Us

Listen: your personal safety may be greatly compromised by untreated hearing loss. Here are the facts: according to the U.S. Fire Administration, millions of hard of hearing Americans are unable to hear the warning sound of a fire alarm. And the Hearing Loss Association of America claims that people have died in fires because they could not hear or wake up to smoke alarms.

Besides enhancing the quality of life, hearing aids also increase our ability to hear environmental sounds, such as smoke and fire alarms, car horns, sirens, and other auditory signals that alert us to possible dangers.

In a workplace, too, untreated hearing can be potentially hazardous. The U.S. Department of Labors Occupational Safety & Health Administration says that hearing-impaired employees can have difficulty hearing verbal instructions and the sound of machinery, or they may lack the ability to identify the direction of a sound source, exposing themselves to a myriad of accidents.

Fostering a Culture of Safety

The fear of not hearing the warning signs of an impending danger is motivating more and more people to get fitted for a hearing aid. A 2004 survey of 80,000 members of the National Family Opinion panel, consisting of households representative of the U.S. Census standards, shows that one in five persons intends to purchase a hearing aid specifically because of safety concerns.

But even with hearing aids, a visit to an audiologist to discuss safety issues is a good idea, Dr. Ericsson says. Most people dont use their aids 24/7. Smoke alarms, doorbells, telephones all need to be heard and responded to, she notes. We always discuss potential safety concerns during those hours when amplification is not being used.

The message is clear: if treated, loss of hearing does not have to equate with the loss of security.

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