Audiologist Doing A Hearing Test

Undertreated & Undiagnosed: Age-Related Hearing Loss

Hearing loss is one of the primary chronic health issues facing Americans today. Although roughly 30 million people in the United States deal with hearing loss, it is a condition that disproportionately impacts older people. 

Age continues to be the greatest predictor of hearing loss, as one in three people over the age of 65 live with debilitating hearing loss. It is a health issue that is perpetually undiagnosed and untreated. Although the National Institutes of Health estimate that 28.8 million people would benefit from hearing aids, less than 30 percent seek treatment.

What is age-related hearing loss?

Age-related hearing loss occurs when the fine hair cells of the inner ear decrease in number over time. They are non-regenerative cells, which means that they do not repair themselves as they are damaged or lost. They’re also integral to the hearing process. It is these sensitive cells that receive noise from the external world and transmute it into sound information. This sound information is then transmitted to the brain for processing. 

As we lose access to these cells, due to the normal aging process, we lose the ability to fully hear the world around us. In addition to age, excessive noise also damages the inner ear cells and over time, decades even, volume exposure can also negatively impact the efficacy of our hearing.

Symptoms of hearing loss

Because we lose access to the noise of the world around us in bits and pieces, the early symptoms can be quite subtle. In fact, it’s often the folks around us who first notice our hearing loss. 

We lose access to frequencies instead of an overall lowering of volume and so the first signs are related to speech clarity. It might sound as though the people around us are mumbling. We can’t catch casual conversation or the dialogue on our favorite television shows. 

You might notice that you avoid phone calls, ask people to often repeat themselves or become reliant on the closed captioning feature on your television.

Statistics on hearing loss intervention 

Most people wait an average of ten years before seeking hearing loss diagnosis and treatment. By then, hearing loss has probably progressed to debilitating stages. Many people with undiagnosed hearing loss deal with the resulting emotional and mental toll which contribute to  conditions like depression and isolation.

Over the past forty years, the percentages of people seeking treatment have remained relatively unchanged. Historically and today, less than one in five people with hearing loss will decide to take charge of their hearing health and seek treatment. 

One reason that might account for this trend despite massive leaps forward in hearing aid technology is that people think that hearing loss is something that older people must simply deal with. The reality couldn’t be further from the truth. 

The benefits of treating hearing loss

The number one motivating factor for people seeking hearing loss continues to be friends and family. We know that hearing aid wearers consistently report improvement in their relationships, which accounts for why loved ones urge them to consider intervention in the first place. 

We know that hearing loss is far more than a simple inconvenience of aging. In fact, we now know that treating hearing loss can help to decrease feelings of depression and isolation. Research supports connections between hearing aids and decreased risk of dementia. The benefits are many while the drawbacks are minimal.

Why the trend may shift

It’s an interesting time to pay attention to hearing aid trends. We have seen massive advancements in the hearing aid field and today’s hearing aids are more powerful and smarter than ever before. What’s more, the demographic we see aging into increased hearing loss is one that is adaptable to new technology and primed for better hearing experiences. Boomers are the first generation to grow up with high fidelity sound — perhaps their penchant for setting trends will reverse the currently dismal statistics surrounding hearing loss treatment. 

Schedule a hearing consultation today

Don’t fall for the old story that hearing loss is something we have to live with as we age. There are proven, successful interventions readily available. It all starts with a simple hearing exam, which our team will lead you through. From there, we’ll work together to find the best solutions for your unique hearing health needs.