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Hearing Loss: 25 Years of Hearing Research Information

Hearing loss is one of the most prevalent health issues in America today; in fact, according to the National Institutes of Health, hearing loss is now the third most common health problem in this country, behind only arthritis and heart disease.

You probably saw these numbers before, but they bear repeating: an estimated 34.5 million people (more than 10 percent of the U.S. population) report a hearing difficulty. That is a rough estimate, as some cases of hearing loss go undetected.

That much we know, but here is something that may surprise you: most people believe hearing loss is predominantly age-related. Not so: About 65 percent of people with hearing loss are younger than 65. There are more than 6 million people in the U.S. between the ages of 18 and 44 with hearing loss, and nearly 1.5 million are school age, so hearing loss affects all age groups. Unfortunately, effective treatment – hearing aids – remains out of reach for millions of Americans.

Finding out nationwide figures in a country as vast as America is, to say the least, a challenging task, and that is where MarkeTrak Survey is a truly valuable source of information.

A Crucial Hearing Loss Study

Since 1989, Knowles Electronics, manufacturer of hearing aid components, has carried out six MarkeTrak surveys of hearing loss in the United States. Starting in 2004, the study was conducted and published by the Better Hearing Institute (BHI), with Knowles’ sponsorship.

According to BHI, “The goal of the MarkeTrak survey is to report on relevant trends and to explore new topics that are likely to contribute to our knowledge of the hearing aid owner population as well as the sizeable population of people with admitted hearing loss, who have chosen not to adopt amplification for their hearing loss.”

The first in a series of publications, called MarkeTrak VIII, which covers 25-year trends in the hearing loss and hearing health, was published in October 2009.

The findings of the most comprehensive hearing healthcare database were drawn from a screening survey of 80,000 U.S. households, which are members of the National Family Opinion (NFO) panel, as well as detailed surveys of more than 3,000 hearing aid owners and more than 4,000 people with hearing loss who are not using amplification.

Key Hearing Research Findings

The survey found that in the past 25 years: 

  • The hearing loss population has grown to 34.5 million over the last generation; over the last quarter century, the hearing loss population grew at the rate of 1.6 times the population growth primarily due to the aging of America
  • The prevalence of hearing loss has grown from 266 to 295 people per thousand households in the last 20 years
  • 61 percent of people with hearing loss are males (virtually unchanged over the past generation)
  • 60 percent of people with hearing loss are below retirement age
  • The incidence of hearing loss in the U.S. is 11.3 percent
  • Hearing aid adoption continues to increase slowly to one in four
  • 4 in 10 people with moderate to severe hearing loss use amplification for their hearing loss
  • 1 in 10 people with mild hearing loss use amplification
  • Binaural fittings continue to grow and now 90 percent of people with bilateral loss use binaural hearing aids
  • Hearing screenings by physicians increased to nearly 15 percent
  • The first time hearing user profile is virtually unchanged, probably meaning that open-fit hearing aids did not tap any new market segments
  • 37 percent of hearing aids fit are to new users
  • Their average age is 68.8 and their average household income is $54,000
  • Hearing aid owners on average wait seven years before purchasing a hearing aid after they learn of their hearing loss; while non-adopters have known about their hearing loss on average for about 12 years
  • In terms of life-stage, the key market segments for hearing aids are: Retired couples, older singles, working older couples and older parents

What This Hearing Loss Information All Means

Sometimes, it is difficult to find sense in a jumble of numbers, but this well-presented survey is clear on many points. For example, that hearing loss is a serious problem, which all too often goes untreated.

Previous studies have shown that among main reasons why so many people forego treatment is the high cost of hearing aids, which can range from $1000 to $5,000 per ear. Sadly, neither Medicare nor most private plans cover the cost of hearing amplification, and one possible relief – the Hearing Aids Tax Credit Act – is languishing on Capitol Hill.

As BHI’s executive director Sergei Kochkin put it, “Over the last generation, the hearing loss population grew at the rate of 160 percent of U.S. population growth. Hearing aid market penetration continues to increase slowly. However, less than 1 in 10 people with mild hearing loss use amplification, and 4 in 10 people with moderate-to-severe hearing loss use amplification for their hearing loss.”

With the outcome of the healthcare debate uncertain at this point, so is the future of widely-accessible hearing aids.

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