America’s Hearing Loss Population Grows to More than 34 Million,
New Study by Better Hearing Institute Finds
Washington, DC, February 8, 2010 — The number of Americans with hearing loss has grown to more than 34 million—roughly 11 percent of the U.S. population—according to a new study of close to 50,000 homes published by the Better Hearing Institute (BHI). The study found that over the last generation, hearing loss among Americans has increased at a rate of 160 percent of U.S. population growth and is one of the most commonly unaddressed health conditions in America today. The prevalence of hearing loss over the last 20 years has grown from 266 to 295 people per thousand U.S. households.
“More Americans than ever before are suffering with hearing loss,” says Sergei Kochkin, PhD, executive director of BHI. “But we treat hearing loss like a neglected orphan in today’s healthcare system.”
He adds: “Our healthcare gatekeepers continue to overlook the importance of hearing health. We still don’t have a universal hearing loss screening program for children or adults in America. And the historical incidence of physician screening for hearing loss has been low.”
According to the survey, fewer than 15 percent of those who received a physical exam in the last year said they received a hearing screening by their physician or nurse during that exam.
“Untreated hearing loss reduces earning power, disrupts relationships, and causes a wide array of psychological problems,” says Kochkin. “Yet, the vast majority of doctors in today’s healthcare system don’t include hearing health as a routine part of annual exams—despite the fact that more than 95 percent of those with hearing loss could benefit from hearing aids.”
According to the study, only 4 in 10 people with moderate-to-severe hearing loss use hearing aids. Even fewer with mild hearing loss use them—just 1 in 10. In fact, most people surveyed who use hearing aids waited nearly seven years after they initially learned about their hearing loss to obtain a hearing aid, and that was after they’d lost so much hearing that their quality of life was affected.
The study found that for those who do choose to use hearing aids, the most common reasons cited were the perception that their hearing loss was getting worse (55.4%) and the influence of family members (51%). Fewer than 7 percent said their family doctor influenced their decision to use a hearing aid.
According to the survey, hearing aid users are more likely to have hearing loss in both ears (87%), difficulty hearing in noise (66%), difficulty hearing normal speech across a room without visual cues (64%), and perceive that their hearing loss is severe or profound (40%). (For hearing loss populations by state, see Appendix A.)
By the time someone has lost speech communication, they’ve already lost less audible sounds such as the more subtle sounds of nature and music—like singing birds, croaking frogs, children’s voices, and the intricacies of classical music. (To experience how sensorineural hearing losses affect hearing, visit BHI’s Hearing Loss Simulator at http://www.betterhearing.org/hearing_loss/hearing_loss_simulator/index.cfm.)
“Unaddressed hearing loss silently creeps into virtually every aspect of daily living and seriously erodes quality of life,” explains Kochkin. “The issue of moving a person from admission of their hearing loss, to recognition of the problems hearing loss causes in their lives, to positive action to treat their hearing loss, is extremely complex and multi-dimensional. Early education to achieve recognition of hearing loss and information on the value of hearing healthcare must remain priorities for the foreseeable future.”
The effects of untreated hearing loss can be especially devastating for children. Even a mild hearing loss can have a negative impact on language competence, cognitive development, social and emotional well-being, and academic achievement.
Numerous studies have linked untreated hearing loss to a wide range of physical and emotional conditions, including irritability, negativism, anger, fatigue, tension, stress, depression, avoidance or withdrawal from social situations, social rejection and loneliness, reduced alertness and increased risk to personal safety, impaired memory and ability to learn new tasks, reduced job performance and earning power, and diminished psychological and overall health. Six out of ten Americans with hearing loss are below retirement age.
Findings from the study, MarkeTrak VIII: 25-Year Trends in the Hearing Health Market, were based on a screening survey sent to 80,000 households in the National Family Opinion panel; detailed survey information was completed in early 2009 by 3,174 hearing aid owners and by 4,345 people with hearing loss who had not yet adopted hearing aids. The study covers 25-year trends in the hearing-impaired population including hearing loss prevalence, hearing aid adoption rates, hearing loss screenings during a physical exam, distribution of hearing aids, hearing loss characteristics of hearing aid owners and non-adopters, new hearing aid adopters, and the demography of hearing aid owners and non-adopters.
A full copy of the study can be downloaded at www.betterhearing.org (under publications).
Founded in 1973, the BHI conducts research and engages in hearing health education with the goal of helping people with hearing loss to benefit from proper treatment.