There long has been a big gap between the number of people with hearing loss and those willing to wear a hearing aid.
But tech-savvy baby boomers just might be the ones to narrow that gap.
“Baby boomers are a lot more willing to embrace hearing aids than their elders were,” said Debbie Youngsma, AuD, CCC-A, an audiologist with Spectrum Health Medical Group. “They are into their smartphones. They are into all that technology. And hearing aids are smart.”
The number of people with hearing loss is growing as rapidly as hair is graying in the baby boomer population.
According to a recent federal report, 17 percent of Americans—1 in 6—say they have trouble hearing. Not surprisingly, the number increases with age. Forty-three percent of those over 70 report hearing loss.
Those self-reported numbers likely don’t capture the full picture, Youngsma said.
People don’t always recognize when they have trouble hearing. Why? The loss may occur too gradually to notice. They may have never had their hearing checked. Or they could be in denial.
“Less than 21 percent of those with hearing impairment are wearing hearing aids,” she said.
Those who do get hearing aids wait an average of seven to 10 years to seek help. That’s a lot of missed conversations.
Accepting the technology can mean a big difference socially and emotionally, Youngsma said.
“Untreated hearing loss usually results in isolation and withdrawal from social situations,” she said. “They can get depressed, frustrated and lonely.”
How is your hearing?
Below are symptoms of hearing loss. If you recognize these in yourself, Youngsma suggests talking to your doctor about a hearing test.
- An inability to hear people clearly or fully
- Frequent requests for repetition or clarification
- Tendency to stare at people when they are talking (people lip-read without realizing it)
- Fatigue at the end of the day from straining to hear
- Avoidance of social situations, because of the difficulty of following conversations
- A tendency to bluff when not hearing someone
- Tinnitus—a ringing or buzzing in the ears
Contact the Spectrum Health Hearing Center at 616.267.7758.
“Obviously, the earlier you get (hearing aids), the easier it’s going to be to adjust and get back into the world of hearing.”
Tired of saying, ‘What?’
Rochelle Morris, 52, said she didn’t realize how much she missed before she got hearing aids two years ago.
She traces problems with her left ear to a car accident in 2004, when the air bag deployed and slammed into the left side of her head.
She started noticing problems hearing about five years ago. She often asked co-workers or family members to repeat something. She missed the punchlines of jokes.
“I felt myself not doing things because I didn’t want to say, ‘What?’ or ‘Say that again,’” she said.
Morris resisted the idea of wearing hearing aids—until she saw how small and unobtrusive they are.
“I pictured an old person and was really kind of embarrassed about it,” she said. “I didn’t need to be, because you don’t even notice it.”
Within a couple of days, she embraced the technology.
Youngsma said she is encouraged to see the stigma waning, particularly among the young baby boomers.
Many are still in the workforce, and communication is crucial to performing their jobs. They also are more likely than their elders to see a hearing aid as just one more technological device—to add to their tablet, laptop, smartphone, Kindle, FitBit or Apple Watch.
They can even use their smartphones and tablets to change the settings on their hearing aids.
“You can act like you’re texting while you’re changing what the hearing aids are doing,” she said.
For Morris, hearings aids opened up a world of sounds she had missed—from the wind blowing through the trees to conversations with her husband, Brian, and their children, Anna and RC.
And when she could hear better, her balance improved.
Causes of hearing loss
Injuries, like the one Morris sustained, are one of several causes of hearing loss, Youngsma said. Others include aging, ear infections, cancer treatments and exposure to noise—either cumulative or one loud burst.
And remember when your parents would tell you to turn down your music? Well, they were on to something. Going to loud concerts, or listening to loud music with ear buds, can take a toll on your hearing.
Impacted ear wax also can cause temporary problems with hearing.
“Hearing loss is the third most common complaint, following hypertension and arthritis, in older adults,” Youngsma said.