Do all people with hearing loss know sign language? Are they all senior citizens? Can people with hearing loss safely drive a car? Enjoy a movie or the theater? Speak “normally?” Hear perfectly with hearing aids?
Despite how common hearing loss is—over 1.5 billion people globally live with hearing loss according to the WHO—many aspects of it remain shrouded in mystery.
The Hearing Loss Myths
Today’s post aims to refute some common hearing loss myths. But there are others! Feel free to add the ones I’ve missed in the comments.
Hearing loss only impacts older people
While hearing loss becomes more prevalent in older populations, the majority of people with hearing loss are under age 65. But since ads and other mainstream treatments of hearing loss often focus on older populations, this is not well understood.
Here are the facts:
- According to the NIDCD (National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders) 8.5% of adults aged 55 to 64 have hearing loss. The rate jumps to 25% in adults aged 65-74 and 50% in adults aged 75+.
- But according to the Better Hearing Institute, 65% of people with hearing loss are under the age of 65.
Everyone with hearing loss knows sign language
It is hard to find concrete data on how many people use sign language to communicate. Gallaudet University performed a literature review in 2005, finding a wide range of estimates (see Table 2 on page 10 of the report). Their conclusion: the number of American Sign Language users probably falls in the 500,000-2 million people range. Using the high end of the range means that less than 5% of the 48 million Americans with hearing loss use sign language to communicate.
Nevertheless, sign language is strongly associated with hearing loss. Most mainstream movies and TV shows that feature people with hearing loss highlight sign language—probably because signing is visible and quite beautiful to watch—but it is not representative of the more common hearing loss experience.
Hearing aids work like glasses
Many people expect hearing aids to work like glasses—you put them on and your hearing is restored to normal. Unfortunately, with current technologies, this is far from reality.
As Gael Hannan and I discuss in our book Hear & Beyond: Live Skillfully with Hearing loss, hearing aids can:
- improve speech comprehension, especially in quiet environments
- reduce (but not eliminate) listening effort and fatigue
- improve personal speech clarity and volume
- assist with sound localization
- mask or reduce the effects of tinnitus
- connect to other devices to enhance communication.
But they cannot:
- deliver sounds as sharply as heard by the natural ear
- read your mind—they amplify all sounds, not just the ones you want to hear
- distinguish among numerous simultaneous speakers
- block out all unwanted background noise.
Hearing devices are covered by insurance
People are often surprised to learn that hearing aids are not usually covered by insurance (at least in the United States). Legislation to add hearing aid coverage to Medicare has been discussed in Congress on and off for years, but as of this writing, no definitive progress has been made. On the other hand, cochlear implants are usually covered by most insurance plans (in the United States).
Louder is always better
Once volume reaches a threshold level, speech comprehension is more about clarity than additional volume.
We Hear You Takes on Hearing Loss Myths
In our hearing loss documentary, We Hear You, we refute many of these myths. Watch a clip from the film below:
To watch the full documentary, visit Vimeo On Demand. Ten percent of proceeds will be donated to hearing loss charities.
Readers, what hearing loss myths do you encounter?