Hearing is a Critical Part of Healthy Aging

I love taking my healthy hearing message on the road. This time to a new venue: On Aging, an annual aging conference sponsored by the American Society on Aging. Joining me on this adventure was fellow hearing health advocate Holly Cohen. Our goal was to help educate the rapidly growing aging industry about the importance of healthy hearing.

Our presentation included:

  • Why healthy hearing is critical to aging well
  • What it is like to have hearing loss
  • How to support people with hearing loss
  • Where to go for more information.

We also showed our documentary, We Hear You, to give the attendees a first hand account of the lived hearing loss experience. The lively discussion that followed was worth the trip.

See an excerpt from the presentation below.

Healthy hearing is critical to aging well

Healthy Hearing is Critical to Aging Well

Hearing loss is often minimized, considered a normal part of aging rather than a life-changing condition, but addressing and maintaining hearing health is a critical part of aging well. Let’s take a look at some hearing loss facts and statistics.

Hearing loss is pervasive 

  • According to the World Health Organization, 430 million people worldwide have debilitating hearing loss.
  • According to Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA), 48 million are Americans, including 1 in 5 teenagers.
  • Hearing loss and tinnitus are the #1 and #2 war wounds for veterans returning from war.

Aging and hearing loss go hand-in-hand

  • According to the NIDCD (National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders) 8.5% of adults aged 55 to 64 have hearing loss.
  • This jumps to 25% in adults aged 65-74 and 50% in adults aged 75+

Hearing loss is associated with health issues

  • Hearing loss is twice as common in people with diabetes.
  • There is a high correlation between hearing loss and cardiovascular disease.
  • People with hearing loss have a higher risk of falls. People with even a mild hearing loss are nearly three times more likely to have a history of falling and these risks increase as the degree of hearing loss worsens. 

Dementia and hearing loss are correlated  

  • According to a 2010 John Hopkins study, even those with mild hearing loss are twice as likely to develop dementia and this likelihood increases with higher degrees of hearing loss. 
  • But don’t panic, having hearing loss doesn’t mean someone will develop dementia. Additional studies have shown that treating hearing loss lowers these risks. Additional research is needed to explore the relationship further.

Despite the risks, hearing loss is often ignored

  • People believe they do fine most of the time so why bother.
  • Stigma and embarrassment hold them back from treating their hearing loss.
  • Only 20% of people who could benefit from a hearing aid actually use one. 
  • For most people with hearing loss, 7-10 years pass before seeking treatment. There is much denial. That was the case for us. 

How to Support People with Hearing Loss

As Gael Hannan and I say in our book Hear & Beyond, “People with hearing loss are not helpless, but good two-way communication requires the support of others.” Our audience included many individuals and businesses involved in the care of older adults, yet hearing loss was not always top of mind. Here are some ways they can support their clients with hearing loss as they age.

Understand the myths

  • Potential hearing aid users and caregivers often think that hearing aids will work like glasses—you put them on and your hearing is restored to “normal.” This is not the case.
  • Even though less than 5% of people with hearing issues use sign language, a sign language interpreter is often the first accommodation that is offered to someone who has trouble hearing. Captions would be far more helpful for most people.

Help with their technology

  • Older adults may need help keeping their devices in working order and changing the batteries regularly.
  • Caregivers can help older adults stay on top of the latest advancements in hearing technology. For example, speech-to-text apps like Otter.ai and Live Transcribe (Android only) transcribe the spoken word for easy reading.

Encourage self advocacy

  • Peer support helps people with hearing loss to feel less alone in their struggles and gives them a support network for living better.
  • CART captioning, hearing loops, and Bluetooth streaming help people with hearing loss enjoy performances, videos, phone calls and group outings. But first they need to know about them.

Use communication best practices 

Small changes in behavior alone can make the difference between a satisfying conversation and a challenging one. Use these tips when speaking with people with hearing loss.

  • Get our attention before speaking
  • Watch for comprehension
  • Provide context
  • Speak clearly and at a normal pace
  • Keep your mouth visible to aid with speechreading
  • Adjust the surroundings as needed (noise down, lights up)
  • Take turns speaking
  • Repeat or rephrase as needed
  • Keep a sense of humor

Help Us Share a Healthy Hearing Message

Are you looking for a speaker to help educate your group or conference attendees about the importance of healthy hearing as we age? Please be in touch.

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Readers, how can we help the aging industry better understand the importance of healthy hearing?

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Book: Hear & Beyond: Live Skillfully with Hearing Loss

6 thoughts on “Hearing is a Critical Part of Healthy Aging

  1. Shari, thanks for a very informative and factual blog. There are a lot of good facts in here that I can use as I start venturing out in my outreach work in PA. One fact however surprises me. Since I started my involvement with HLAA 6 years ago, the 48 million number hasn’t changed. I’m surprised it isn’t higher. Do you know what the source was for this number?

    Looking forward to seeing you at the convention and getting your book. Thank you for all that you do for all of us with hearing loss. By the way, the tree pose you did in boots in the desert on the cover of the HHF magazine was impressive!

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a passionate hearing health advocate and internationally recognized author and speaker on hearing loss issues. She is the founder of Living with Hearing Loss, a popular blog and online community for people with hearing loss, and an executive producer of "We Hear You," an award-winning documentary about the hearing loss experience. Her book, "Hear & Beyond: Live Skillfully with Hearing Loss," (co-authored with Gael Hannan) is the ultimate survival guide to living well with hearing loss. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, she will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      That is a great question. We will have to ask them at Convention. Looking forward to seeing you there. Thank you for your comments.

  2. MikeM’s comment concerning the whether the long-standing estimate that 48 million US residents have some degree of hearing loss has puzzled me too. So I looked into it. It looks clear that the estimate is based on some research done by Frank Linn and associates at Johns Hopkins in 2011. It’s very well researched. But the bottom line estimate (48 million) is getting old. In 2016, the authors acknowledged that fact: “However, existing estimates of hearing loss prevalence are outdated, do not reflect current population estimates, and do not include estimates according to hearing loss severity.” Quoted from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5024365/. But we continue to use the 48 million figure. I’m not sure why. Thanks. Russell Misheloff ()

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a passionate hearing health advocate and internationally recognized author and speaker on hearing loss issues. She is the founder of Living with Hearing Loss, a popular blog and online community for people with hearing loss, and an executive producer of "We Hear You," an award-winning documentary about the hearing loss experience. Her book, "Hear & Beyond: Live Skillfully with Hearing Loss," (co-authored with Gael Hannan) is the ultimate survival guide to living well with hearing loss. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, she will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      Great research! Thank you for sharing this.

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