The unfortunate truth is that many Americans who could benefit from hearing aids do not use them. The reasons can vary, ranging from price, stigma, or ease of use, resulting in over 25 million Americans choosing to avoid the technology that could increase their quality of life. With mountains of scientific evidence proving the positive effects of using hearing aids, why do so many choose to ignore their hearing health? 48 hours in the life of Adam Feldman, an editor of Medical News Today and hearing aid user, may just provide the answer.
For many in the deaf and hard of hearing community, hearing loss is a gradual condition that worsens over time. It’s difficult for some to determine when hearing loss has become a diagnosable problem that requires medical intervention, especially when evaluating age-related hearing loss. A problem Feldman and many other Americans understand all too well. “However, It’s all too easy to dismiss the impact of a gradual, creeping condition such as hearing loss,” Feldman says. “It can develop suddenly, or, as in my case, take 20 years to reach a diagnosable level.”
Feldman’s answer may provide insight into recent statistics exploring when patients choose to finally seek help. According to a 2007 study, hearing aid users wait on average 10 years to be fitted with their first set of hearing aids, which can facilitate even worse hearing damage.
A major difficulty of hearing loss is the trouble following or participating in conversations, especially in environments that have competing sounds in the background. This is understandably frustrating for those with hearing loss, as more and more deaf or hard of hearing patients choose to stay home instead of participating in social interaction. This leads to depression, social isolation, and even cognitive decline in our older communities, another issue Feldman addresses in his day to day life. “Every pang of guilt or embarrassment after saying “what?” or “huh?” might lead to another night when you don’t risk going out to socialize. You end up distancing softly-spoken colleagues, friends, and even family members, simply because the effort it takes to process their speech can become draining.”
These social difficulties may be a compelling argument for hearing aid usage, but wearing hearing aids come with its own social stigma as well. According to a 2010 study, Margaret Wallhagen, Ph.D, found that three main factors contributed to a social stigma surrounding hearing aid usage: Ageism, alteration in self-perception, and vanity. In short, patients believed they looked older or medically impaired while wearing hearing aids, prompting them to forgo hearing aids even when they could directly benefit.
Like many, Feldman is happy with his choice to finally use his hearing aids. “There’ll be occasional squeals of feedback, and keeping them wedged in my ears can be a challenge, especially while moving around. However, I’m in the early stages of treatment and already connecting with the world more closely.” Feldman tells Medical News Today, concluding that “Sound is 20 percent of your experience as a human. Conversation, music, and background noise are all part of keeping a steady headspace and progressing with your day. Protecting and enhancing that is a life-changing step to take for people who can’t process sound as well as others do. I cannot wait to stick these bad boys in upon waking up tomorrow and seeing what else I can discover for the first time.”