Will hearing loss soon be commonplace?

Can you imagine a time when hearing loss would be commonplace? When would it be more prevalent than not in a social setting? When would this be the new normal? Given demographic trends, we may be fast approaching such a time. This is due to three important factors – (1) the median age of the US population is increasing, (2) people are living longer, and (3) the higher incidence of hearing loss among older adults.

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Hearing healthcare will be increasingly important

In the report of the National Academies of Sciences Hearing care for adultsthe authors use demographics to demonstrate the growing impact that hearing health care will have from a social policy perspective.

According to the report, in 1900, 4.1% of the American population was 65 or older, which is just over 3 million people; in 2012, 13.7% of the population, or 40 million people, were 65 or older, and by 2060, 24% of the US population is expected to be 65 or older. These trends are similar in other developed countries of the world.

Combined with people living longer and higher incidence rates of hearing loss in older adults, we may be approaching a time when hearing loss is the new normal in adults. Higher rates of noise pollution and ubiquitous use of headphones may also make hearing loss more common in other age groups, although this may be offset by better regulated noise levels in work environments. .

The increase in the prevalence of hearing loss has some silver linings

The trends are frightening, but the good news for those of us with hearing loss is that as hearing loss becomes more ‘normal’, social change is inevitable. I can imagine several positive developments.

1. Stigma reduction. When something is mundane, the stigma recedes. This would be great news for people living with hearing loss and could push them to seek treatment sooner. Currently, people wait an average of seven to ten years before asking for help.

2. Cheaper and more widespread access to hearing solutions. This is already happening as companies prepare for a new FDA category of over-the-counter hearing aids for people with mild to moderate hearing loss. With increased demand and new competitors entering the market, innovation and lower prices are likely.

3. Trendier hearing aids. When everyone has one, individuality will become more important, making hearing aids fair game for fashion. It’s gonna be fun.

4. Quieter spaces. Wouldn’t that be wonderful! Restaurants could start turning down the music to attract older customers. Movies and other theaters can also start turning the volume down while dialing down the clarity of the sound.

5. Better hearing assistance everywhere. Closed captioning, looping and other assistive technologies may soon become the norm. Perhaps the captioning of live TV programs would also improve. As demand grows, new forms of hearing aids for public spaces will likely result.

6. More regular screening by physicians. Changing demographics are expected to lead to changes in the medical profession. Since earlier detection and treatment of hearing loss could help reduce associated health problems such as depression, an increased risk of falls and a higher likelihood of dementia, we could see hearing screenings become a standard part of an annual physical exam.

7. Clearer speech patterns. With more hearing-impaired people, careful enunciation and diction may once again become the typical speech pattern. It would definitely make things easier to hear!

8. Increased emphasis on auditory research. This can only be good news. The more scientists learn about how hearing works (and doesn’t), the more successful they will be in developing new cures and better ways to prevent hearing loss.

Copyright: Living with hearing loss/Shari Eberts. Reprinted with permission.

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