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Be an advocate for hearing health

Contributed by | Wednesday, January 6th, 2016

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If you’re one of the 48 million Americans with some degree of hearing loss, you already know you’re not alone. Hopefully, you’ve navigated the healthcare waters successfully and are working with a hearing healthcare professional toward hearing your best.

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As wonderful as it is to live in this country, and as blessed as we are to have such advanced hearing aid technology available, we still have some work to do. Even though hearing loss is a serious public health concern, most insurance companies still don’t cover the costs associated with preventative care or treatment. While hearing aids are medical devices just like artificial hips and pacemakers, the general public views them in a negative manner. And while the most common form of hearing loss – noise induced hearing loss (NIHL) – is 100 percent preventable, companies aren’t required to list the risk of hearing damage on their products.

Think of the light we could shine on hearing health if all 48 million Americans affected with hearing loss raised their voices together.

If you’re wondering what that might look like, we’ve put together a few suggestions. Just as every individual’s hearing journey is unique, so are their opinions about and passion for advocating for this important health topic. So – dip your toe in the water slowly or jump right in. In order to change the current climate surrounding hearing health, we all need to speak up.

Educate yourself

The Healthy Hearing website is a good place to begin. Know why hearing loss is a health concern, especially to those with other health problems or individuals who are already socially isolated.

One of the first articles we recommend reading is Mr. President: Your advisors were wrong about hearing aids by Paul Dybala, PhD, president of Healthy Hearing. His insightful editorial gives a summary of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) initial report on hearing aid technology, what he believes the PCAST committee missed about hearing health and his recommendations for improving access to hearing aid technology.

His recommendations include:

  • A mandate that all health insurance cover hearing aids as a preventative care measure
  • Support for initiatives to promote hearing aids as a healthy choice
  • A mandate for a national best practices protocol for hearing aid fittings
  • A mandate for package labeling for risk of hearing loss

Afterward, find out about hearing health regulations in your state.

  • Are public insurers responsible for covering hearing health? If so, what aspects of hearing health are covered – and for whom?
  • Is there any pending hearing health legislation? Call your legislator or conduct a quick search on the internet using the keywords “hearing aid legislation” followed by the name of your state.

Educate others

  • Talk about it. If you have hearing loss, you are the perfect person to share your journey with others. If you have hearing aids, help remove the stigma by talking about how much they’ve improved your life. If you have a loved one whose life was enhanced with hearing aids, share their story. The more who are aware of the positive outcomes this technology offers, the more likely they will be to seek treatment for their own hearing loss when the time comes.
  • Volunteer – and take friends. One of the best ways is to participate in a community walk or other organized event sponsored by hearing health organizations. The Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) organized 21 Walk4Hearing events throughout the country in 2015, bringing together more than 58,000 people in support of hearing loss as a public health issue. If you don’t see an event in your community, 2016 might just be the year to help organize one.
  • Start a petition. If your state doesn’t already mandate insurance coverage for hearing aids, or current regulations don’t provide adequate coverage for a large enough population, consider starting a petition to create legislation or change the existing law. Sites like Care2Petitions walks you through the process and provides an online repository while you gather signatures.
  • Use social media to get the word out. We know you’ll never tire of posting cute photos of your grandbaby, but in between viewing fun memes and adorable videos, consider using your social media account to change the social stigma about wearing hearing aids, advocate for one of Dr. Dybala’s recommendations, or recruit friends to sign your petition or join you on a walk to support hearing healthcare. Use this educational method sparingly and in good taste, of course. Your posts are only effective if your friends see them --  which they may opt not to do if you become too annoying.

Talk to your legislators

Hearing health reform will only happen if our politicians become as passionate about changing the current climate as you are. The only way they’ll understand why hearing healthcare is important to you is if you tell them, so don’t hesitate to speak up.

  • Write a letter. The United States House of Representatives has a search feature to help you find your congressman and your Senator is listed here. Several organizations, such as the NLACRC, have also posted great guidelines for composing a letter to your congressman.
  • Attend a town hall meeting. If your congressman or senator is planning a town hall meeting in your community, plan to be present. Before you go, think about what you’d like to say if you get the chance. Any time you talk about hearing healthcare publicly, you elevate the status of hearing loss as a public health issue.
  • Request a meeting. Many elected officials keep office hours specifically to meet with constituents. If you do have the opportunity to speak directly with a legislator, remember to clearly state what you want to discuss, share how the issue affects you personally, listen respectfully to their response and thank them for their time at the end of the meeting.

Model good hearing health

Of course, it goes without saying that actions speak louder than words.

  • Get regular hearing checkups. Hearing healthcare professionals recommend getting a baseline hearing test at age 50, then following up every two years.
  • If you have hearing loss, get it treated immediately. Studies indicate individuals with hearing loss wait an average of seven to ten years to seek treatment. A small part of the reason is financial, but the larger reason is the social stigma associated with wearing hearing aids.
  • Protect your own hearing. Noise-induced hearing loss is the most common form of hearing loss -- and the most preventable. When your loved ones see you wearing proper hearing protection at the shooting range or rock concert, they are more likely to do the same.

Above all, remember that we are most effective when we all work together to effect change. If 48 million Americans raise their voices in support of better hearing healthcare in 2016, it will be a chorus that's hard to ignore.

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