The latest news in this battle is the Hearing Health Foundation’s recent expansion of its research and educational initiatives to target the causes, treatments and potential cures for tinnitus.
Between 25 and 50 million people in the U.S. experience the annoying ringing, buzzing, clicking and whooshing sounds in the ear that are symptoms of tinnitus. A high percentage of people with hearing loss are affected by tinnitus. Read more
Former President George W. Bush has signed on with the Starkey Hearing Foundation to help give away hearing aids to people with hearing loss in Africa. Last week, he joined a Starkey Foundation mission in Tanzania where a team fit 222 people with custom hearing aids.
Bush has had an interest in Africa since he served as president, when he surprised many of his critics by taking the lead on providing assistance in managing the HI/AIDS crisis in Africa.
The former president’s daughter Barbara Bush, CEO and cofounder of Global Health Corps, is also a supporter of the Starkey Hearing Foundation who joined Starkey founder William Austin on a mission to Uganda last year.
I’ve only read the first hundred pages. But so far, Katherine Bouton’s book, Shouting Won’t Help…Why I–and 50 Million Other Americans–Can’t Hear You, has been like an out-of-body experience. It’s as if someone who was living in my head for the past ten years finally escaped and wrote a book about the experience of being me.
This book is a MUST READ for anyone with hearing loss, and ESPECIALLY for anyone living with someone with hearing loss.
Katherine Bouton lived for years with severe hearing loss but kept it to herself. The cycle she describes of denial, depression, isolation, anger and denial again — before ultimately finding her way to acceptance — will be familiar to all who have lived through it. And because she was a writer and editor for The New Yorker and The New York Times for more than 25 years, she knows how to tell her story and all the facts that go along with it in a way that’s easy for anyone to understand. Do I dare say that it’s even entertaining?
I’ll write more about Shouting Won’t Help once I’ve finished it. In the meantime, here’s a short excerpt from the introduction that sums up so much of the experience of hearing loss:
It was only when I lost my hearing that I became aware of how important hearing is in establishing one’s sense of place. Hearing anchors you in the world. It puts you at the center of a multidimensional universe. We hear things behind us, above us; we hear our stomachs rumble and our hearts beat. We hear in the dark; we hear in a cave or windowless cell. We hear in our sleep. Sometimes we hear in a coma. Babies hear in the womb. We hear as we breathe–effortlessly–until we can’t.
Helen Keller famously said that she regarded deafness as “a much worse misfortune” than blindness, because it cut the sufferer off from “the intellectual company of man.” She would have been amazed and grateful to have the amount of hearing I have, with all my technology. But even with hearing aids and cochlear implants and other hearing-assistive technology, hearing-impaired people still often feel cut off.
It’s exhausting to work so hard to hear. It takes a toll on your cognitive ability. But the longer I live and hear with my devices, the more grateful I am to have them, and the more confidence I have to try new things that I would have avoided during the early years of the severe phase of my loss. Hearing impairment will always be an impediment, but it no longer defines me. I’ve stopped thinking of myself as hearing impaired, and started thinking of myself as someone with a hearing impairment….
–Katherine Bouton, Shouting Won’t Help
Naming Names: Hearing Health Groups Ask FDA To Force Four Personal Amplifier Marketers To Stop Calling Their Products Hearing Aids
Many of the established players in the hearing industry have long been upset about lack of clarity in the lines drawn between hearing aids, which are regulated medical devices, and personal sound amplification products (PSAPs), which are unregulated. Now three major hearing health organizations are tackling the issue head on by calling on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to have four PSAP providers “cease and desist” from marketing their products as hearing aids intended to rectify hearing loss.
The joint letter from the Academy of Doctors of Audiology, American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, and International Hearing Society said companies selling the Neutronic Ear, RCA Symphonix Sound Amplifier, Lee Majors Bionic Hearing Aid, and TV Ears Sports Amplifier may be violating FDA and state regulations requiring marketers of hearing aids to request a full medical evaluation from customers–including a recent hearing test administered by a licensed hearing aid fitter or audiologist–or have them sign an explicit waiver. Read more
Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick this week signed a new law requiring insurers in the state to cover the cost of hearing aids for children, making Masssachusetts the 20th state that ensures its young citizens get the hearing assistance they need.
The law is generous, at least for those it covers, requiring insurance companies to cover up to $2,000 for hearing aids for anyone 21 years old and younger every 36 months. That’s a big offset to the three or four thousand dollars it costs for a new set of high-quality digital hearing aids that can be fine-tuned for even the most severe forms of hearing loss.
Such coverage would seem like a no-brainer, especially for children. When kids can’t hear, they can’t learn; when they can’t learn, they can’t do well in school; when they can’t do well in school, they get lower paying jobs; when they get lower paying jobs, they pay thousands of dollars less in taxes and contribute far less back to society than they would otherwise. Read more
Richard Branson Gets Hands-On With Hearing Aids On Starkey Hearing Foundation Mission To South Africa
Media mogul, airline magnate, and high-altitude explorer Sir Richard Branson got hands-on with hearing aids on a recent Starkey Hearing Foundation mission to South Africa that the jet-setting celebrity philanthropist called “one of the most rewarding weekends of my life.”
“Seeing kids who had never been able to hear or speak doing so for the first time. Old men completely deaf dancing with joy at suddenly being able to hear again. Incredible,” Branson said in a post on his Virgin Companies blog entitled “Giving the Gift of Hearing.”
William Austin, founder of Starkey Laboratories and the Starkey Hearing Foundation, led the mission, which set up 500 hard-of-hearing South African citizens with hearing aids.
The recent Johns Hopkins survey of hearing loss in the United States, which finds that one in five Americans aged 12 and over suffers from hearing loss, shouldn’t surprise anyone. But it’s still a shocker, especially when you realize that only a small minority of that 20 percent is getting any help for their hearing loss.
Those of us who write about hearing loss usually cite government data putting the number in the range of 30 to 35 million Americans. The Johns Hopkins study says 30 million American adults–about 12 percent–have hearing loss in two ears, and that 48 million, or 20 percent, have hearing loss in at least one ear.
The survey also uses the World Health Organization’s definition of hearing loss: not being able to hear sounds of 25 decibels or less in speech frequencies. So the results are relevant to the hearing health care profession.
The Johns Hopkins hearing-loss survey is important because it’s hard to find current data from an impeccable source. Johns Hopkins is one of the world’s top public-health research institutions, so its count is probably the most accurate new assessment of the prevalence of hearing loss in the U.S. The survey used data from the National Health and Nutritional Examination Surveys (NHANES) conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, and the painstaking methodology the researchers used provide credibility to their claim that the results are representative of a cross-section of Americans.
The study’s authors say the findings “suggest that many more people than previously thought are affected by this condition,” which isn’t a surprise, as they used more recent data than many of the other studies that are more often quoted. It just reinforces the intuitive conclusion that as the Baby Boom generation ages, the incidence of hearing loss across the population is going to increase at a predictable rate.
But the “one in five” headline is still a shocker. Especially when you realize that only a small minority of that 20 percent is getting any help for their hearing loss. Let’s see if the headlines make a difference.
Nearly Half Of AARP-ASHA Survey Respondents Say Their Hearing Is Getting Worse, But Majority Fail To Take Action
Why do so many people who know their hearing is getting worse fail to seek treatment? That question screams from the remarkable survey results just released by AARP and the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASLH).
There are a number of answers, but according to the survey, the high cost of hearing aids and inadequate insurance coverage for hearing-loss treatment (or lack of health insurance entirely) are high on the list of reasons people don’t seek out help for their hearing problems.
Check out some of the results of the survey of AARP members:
- While 88 percent said they had their vision tested in the past five years, less than half that number, 43 percent, had their hearing checked.
- But in the same period, nearly half (46 percent) said their hearing has gotten worse, with 61 percent saying they have difficulty following conversations in noisy situations.
- And even though 85 percent said maintaining hearing health is of great importance to them personally, 57 percent of respondents with hearing difficulties said they are not seeking treatment.
- Why do they fail to seek treatment? Here’s the kicker: “Nearly two-thirds of poll respondents (63 percent) cite health insurance coverage limitations, concerns about cost, and lack of health insurance as reasons for not getting treatment for hearing difficulties.”
AARP is the world’s biggest organization for people over the age of 50, and when it zeroes in on an issue it can move mountains. What would happen if AARP got on the hearing-loss bandwagon in a big way? Would we see more insurance companies providing coverage for hearing aids? Would we see more pressure on hearing-aid manufacturers to provide more affordable solutions?
Unfortunately, there may be an even bigger problem than high costs and lack of insurance coverage for the failure of people to seek out help. The survey also reveals there’s still a tremendous fear of the stigma that, rightly or wrongly, so many people associate with hearing loss. When you read the full report on the results (click here to download the PDF), you see too many troubling mentions of survey respondents wanting to “cover up” evidence of their hearing loss:
Fifty-seven percent of those with untreated hearing problems say their problems don’t warrant treatment and are easy enough to “cover up.” The foremost reason for not seeking treatment is a perception that their hearing issue isn’t severe enough – that they are getting by without treatment. They seem to have found ways that they believe cover up their hearing issues, and do not see a connection to an improved quality of life that treatment may provide.
Maybe the best result of the AARP focus on the hearing-loss issue will be a reduction in the stigma associated with hearing aids and a greater acceptance by the over-50 Baby Boomer set of the notion that a little help with their hearing could go a long way. But I’m not holding my breath!