As the aging population grows in the United States, we face an unexpected byproduct: an upward trend in the number of people living with hearing loss. According to estimates cited by Johns Hopkins Cochlear Center for Hearing and Public Health, the number of Americans who have hearing loss is expected to increase from 44 million in 2020 to over 73 million by 2060. Living a longer life means encountering the issues that come with aging. As one might expect, persons aged sixty-four and older will continue to make up the vast bulk of people with hearing loss in the future.
The impact of hearing loss
Untreated hearing loss has a huge financial impact on society, costing about 750 billion US dollars globally in costs to health, education, and productivity. This is in addition to the effects the chronic health condition has on the individual. People with untreated hearing loss are more likely to suffer from depression. Challenges in communicating can lead to a sense of isolation and dependence upon caregivers who do their communicating for them.
Cognitive issues are a likely outcome for folks dealing with hearing loss, too. Mild hearing loss doubles the risk of a dementia diagnosis, while moderate to severe hearing loss increases the risk at three to five times, respectively.
Catch hearing loss early
To prevent these detrimental results, we can help people identify and treat hearing loss early. The initial symptoms of hearing loss can be subtle and it’s notoriously difficult to self-diagnose. The first signs usually surround trouble with speech clarity and understanding what people are saying. Because we are such adaptable creatures, years can pass with a lower quality of communication before we decide to take action.
We can support hearing health by making it a priority. Recognizing that it is an essential aspect to a vibrant life, undergoing regular hearing exams throughout the lifespan can detect early patterns of hearing loss. After age 18, people should have a hearing exam every decade. Once a person reaches the age of 50, they should have a hearing exam every three years. And for those over the age of 65, experts advise an annual hearing health appointment.
Intervene in hearing loss to reduce impact
One major perspective shift that would greatly relieve the burden of hearing loss is a normalization of hearing aids and cochlear implants. A 2013 article published in the International Journal of Audiology stated that almost 80 percent of people aged 55 to 74 who would benefit from hearing aids do not use them. We also know that people who eventually do invest in hearing aids wait an average of a decade, living with sometimes disabling hearing loss, before they decide to intervene.
Most cases of age-related hearing loss are irreversible, but they remain highly treatable. Treating hearing loss with hearing aids and cochlear implants can alleviate symptoms of depression and give people back their mobility and sense of independence. Among those in the workforce, people who proceed with intervention make an average of $20,000 more per year compared to people with untreated hearing loss.
Perhaps the most meaningful outcome of treating hearing loss is that ‘improved relationships’ are reported by a majority of people who choose hearing aids.
Preventing hearing loss in young people
Age is and will continue to be the greatest predictor of hearing loss, as is expected when the natural aging process itself contributes to the condition. However, exposure to excessive noise is rising as a driving cause of hearing loss.
As we fold earbuds and headphones even more into our daily habits, the World Health Organization issued a warning about young people and hearing health. We are now plugged in for hours every day, streaming entertainment, chatting with friends and even participating in work and school.
We must educate younger generations on responsible listening habits. They are habits that would benefit people of all ages, too. To prioritize hearing health, keep your volume settings at mid-range and never exceed two-thirds of maximum volume. Using apps on your smartphone, you can monitor your headphone decibel output to ensure you stay below 85 decibels (the range that becomes harmful to your hearing). Contact us for more information.