Will Hearing Loss Soon Be The New Normal?

Can you imagine a time when hearing loss would be commonplace? When it would be more prevalent than not in a social setting? When it would be the new normal? Given demographic trends, we may be rapidly approaching such a time. This is driven by three important factors — (1) the median age of the US population is increasing, (2) people are living longer, and (3) the higher incidence of hearing loss in older adults. We have the Baby Boomers and improved health care trends to thank for most of this.

Living With Hearing Loss | A Hearing Loss Blog

In the National Academies of Sciences’ report Hearing Health Care For Adults, the authors use demographics to demonstrate the increasing impact hearing health care will have from a social policy standpoint. According to the report, in 1900, 4.1% of the US population was 65 years or older representing a little over 3 million people; by 2012 13.7% of the population or 40 million people were 65 or older, and by 2060, 24% of the US population is expected to be 65 or older. These trends are similar in other developed nations around the world.

Combined with the fact that people are living longer and the higher incidence rates of hearing loss in older adults, we may be approaching a time when hearing loss is the new normal among adults. Higher rates of noise pollution and ubiquitous ear bud use may also make hearing loss more common across other age groups, although this could be offset by better regulated noise levels in work settings.

The trends are frightening, but the good news for those of us with hearing loss is that as hearing loss becomes more “normal,” social change is inevitable. I can imagine several positive developments.

1. Reduced stigma. When something is commonplace, stigma recedes. This would be wonderful news for people living with hearing loss and might push people to seek treatment for hearing loss more quickly. Currently, people wait an average of 7-10 years before seeking assistance.

2. Cheaper and more widespread access to hearing solutions. This is already in process as companies prepare for a new FDA category of over-the-counter hearing aids for people with mild to moderate hearing loss. With increased demand and new competitors entering the market, innovation and lower prices are likely.

3. Trendier hearing devices. When everybody has one, individuality will become more important making hearing devices fair game for fashion. That will be fun.

4. Quieter spaces. Wouldn’t that be wonderful! Restaurants might begin turning down the music to attract older patrons. Movies and other theaters may also start to turn down the volume while dialing up the sound clarity.

5. Better hearing assistance everywhere. Captioning, looping and other assistive technologies could soon become the norm. Maybe the captioning on live TV programs would also improve. As demand grows, new forms of hearing assistance for public spaces are likely to result.

6. More regular screening by doctors. Changing demographics should lead to changes in the medical profession. Since earlier detection and treatment of hearing loss could help reduce associated health problems such as depression, a greater risk of falls and a higher likelihood of dementia, we may see hearing screenings become a standard part of an annual physical.

7. Clearer speech patterns. With more people with hearing loss, enunciation and careful diction may again become the typical speech pattern. That would certainly make things easier to hear!

8. Increased emphasis on hearing research. This can only be good news. The more scientists learn about how hearing works (and doesn’t work), the more success they will have in developing new cures and better ways to prevent hearing loss.

Readers, can you imagine a world where hearing loss is “normal?”

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8 thoughts on “Will Hearing Loss Soon Be The New Normal?

  1. In my world, hearing loss IS the (not-so-new) normal!
    I yearn for the day when we as a culture are more sensitive to sound and conscious about generating noise and noisy environments.

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  2. Hi Shari

    I’m sure it is the new “norm” already. advances in hearing aid design, in that a lot of devices for mild to moderate hearing loss, which is the most common, are getting smaller and the technology more sophisticated have led more people to seek help already.

    As you say the average age is coming down meaning more people of working age have hearing loss and are getting hearing aids.

    It’s not just in the US either. here in the UK and Europe, websites such as “Hear-It.org” and the UK’s Action On Hearing Loss all report upward trends in the number of people with a hearing loss.

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  3. I think hearing loss has been the new normal for a while now, since cell phones became much more advanced with texting , email, and relay call apps. 30 or more years ago , there were very limited communication devices for the hearing impaired . There was no relay service or even much available email services . Some relied on amplified voice phones but that wasn’t helpful if you had a profound loss . TTYs were great provided the person you called had one. On the plus side, I became a great letter writer! My first “cell ” phone was the original T Mobile Sidekick, a great phone with a real flip out screen and keyboard which I upgraded twice to the newer versions because it was such a great phone. I could now send messages to other hearing impaired friends who had similar texting phones . That was the start for me to feeling more like a “normal ” hearing impaired person . Amazing how fast technology has advanced in such a short time .

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  4. My mom just got her hearing aids and has now joined me on how to navigate this thing. I’ve been hard of hearing since childhood so she knew intimately what it was like for me, her child, but now she’s the wearer of aids, and it’s age related, which must be very strange to adjust to.

    Definitely here in Canada you see this same thing too…more seniors live longer and struggling with hearing loss. 🙂

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