Estimates suggest that 30 million Americans currently are impacted by some degree of hearing loss, ranging from mild to profound or complete hearing loss. Since hearing loss is also associated with age, as the American population continues to age, one would expect that the number of impacted Americans will likely rise. Hearing loss is not an isolated problem. As will be explored below, hearing loss can negatively impact a person’s ability to communicate with others, and this can lead to feelings of depression and a sense of isolation. In turn, this can raise the risk of cognitive decline and possible dementia.
These hearing loss statistics may, in fact, underestimate the number of Americans who are impacted by hearing challenges. For example, not everyone experiencing hearing challenges reports these difficulties to their medical provider or seeks assistance from a hearing aid center. Also, some problems, such as tinnitus, are not classified as a hearing loss but can negatively affect these people’s ability to interact with their listening environment.
One of the most effective tools used to deal with hearing loss is hearing aids. Hearing aids can dramatically restore people’s functional hearing. There are thousands of different hearing aids on the market produced by many companies, including large manufacturers, such as Starkey, Oticon, Phonak, and Beltone. These hearing aids offer a wide range of options, and as technology evolves, the capabilities of these hearing aids will also increase. In addition, hearing aids can now stream digital content directly from a device, such as an iPhone, to a person’s hearing aid.
The price of hearing aids varies dramatically. On average, though, hearing aids cost from $1,000 to $3,000 per hearing aid, with some of the most technically sophisticated being even more expensive. These prices can be prohibitive for many consumers, especially since many insurance companies do not cover the cost of hearing aids.
But, cost should not stand in the way of preventing people from getting the resources that they need. Fortunately, there are options available. Some of these options are described below.
Many insurance companies do not cover the cost of hearing aids. However, some policies may actually have hearing aid coverage. Therefore, it is crucial to call your insurance company and figure out any potential benefits that you may have. Information empowers you to make good choices.
There is also a push by some politicians to get Medicare to cover hearing aid costs. These efforts have not passed the U.S. Congress yet. But, some Medicare Advantage plans will pick up a portion of the hearing aid costs. These plans often have higher monthly premiums, and they may also require patients to pick up a part of their hearing aid costs.
It is also important to note that an increasing number of insurance companies cover a large portion of cochlear ear implants, which can be life-changing for many people.
This step is vitally important if you have previously served in the United States military. If a person’s hearing loss can be credibly linked to their time in the military, then the Veterans Administration will cover the cost of hearing aids. This process can take time and effort since the VA tends to be extremely bureaucratic. It is also interesting to note that almost 3 million veterans have hearing loss of varying degrees.
Some states may have more financial resources than other states in assisting people who may need help purchasing a hearing aid. The resources will likely come from a department that is known again as the Division of Services for the Deaf and the Hard of Hearing. The available resources can vary dramatically from state to state.
Another potential resource within your individual state could be the Vocal Rehabilitation Services. This department would likely be helpful if a person suffered a job loss due to hearing challenges, and helping their hearing would make them employable.
There are numerous outside organizations and non-profits that may offer people financial assistance in obtaining a hearing aid. One important organization is Lions Club International. The Lions Club engages in a wide range of activities to boost hearing in local communities. First, they have a wide range of children’s screening programs to identify early hearing losses. Second, the Lions Club has set up camps and other experiences for children with hearing loss. And, finally, over the last twenty years, the Lions Club has launched an innovative program to recycle and refurbish hearing aids and then distribute them to people who would not otherwise be able to afford them.
Another organization that is concerned with making hearing aids more affordable to the general public is Sertoma. In the past, Starkey, a major hearing aid manufacturer, also had a program known as Hear Now, focused on affordability and accessibility. However, Hear Now has been suspended as a result of the global Covid-19 pandemic.
Hearing loss, however, is about more than just the financial aspects of affording hearing aids to help people return to their everyday life. There are also emotional and psychological impacts of hearing loss. Fortunately, some resources exist to help people navigate these challenges.
Before the psychological and emotional impact of hearing loss can be addressed, it is important that the signs and symptoms of hearing loss be recognized so that they can be treated. There are numerous resources available that help people identify if they are experiencing some degree of hearing loss.
The Cleveland Clinic identifies multiple signs that a person may be experiencing hearing difficulties. These checklist items include, but are not limited to:
1. Needing people to regularly repeat what they have said;
2. Struggling to understand dialogue in movies and on television shows;
3. Not being able to understand what a person is saying if their back is turned;
4. A growing sense of isolation and feeling withdrawn;
5. Setting the television volume to what seems unnaturally loud volumes for people who do not have hearing loss.
Signs and symptoms of hearing loss may look dramatically different in infants and children than it does in older adults. For example, children may have delayed speech and language skills, or they may not be able to replicate sounds that adults in their life are making. Given the educational impact of hearing loss, it is essential that parents immediately reach out to their child’s pediatrician if they suspect any hearing loss.
If someone notices that they are experiencing several of the warning signs on the above checklist, then they should take the next step and reach out to their health care provider to schedule a hearing check. Some of these basic checks can be conducted in a doctor’s office. But, some doctors may prefer to refer you to an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist who may schedule a more in-depth hearing test.
Some older people may not feel comfortable venturing into a doctor’s office now in the middle of a pandemic, but there are options for these people as well. They can schedule online diagnostic tests with a number of hearing aid manufacturers. These tests can identify hearing loss and help guide them to what hearing aids may be most helpful.
One of the important things that a hearing test will do is help identify what type of hearing loss a patient is experiencing. Not all hearing losses are created equally or follow the same mechanisms. According to the Cleveland Clinic, there are four primary types of hearing loss. These are:
1. Conductive hearing loss;
2. Sensorineural hearing loss;
3. Mixed hearing loss; and
4. Auditory neuropathy spectrum disorder (ANSD)
Each of these types of hearing loss can be caused by a variety of different factors. For example, some hearing loss is age-related. Other hearing losses can be attributed to working in noisy environments without appropriate hearing protection. Infections or trauma may also be the cause of hearing loss. By understanding the process and mechanism of this hearing loss, people may be able to take steps to protect their remaining auditory health.
Hearing loss can be extremely emotionally charged. Many people experiencing hearing loss feel as if they are losing their connection to the world around them. They also believe that hearing loss negatively impacts their interactions with friends and family and their quality of life. Therefore, it may be beneficial for these people to find counseling to help them deal with these impacts.
Some people reach out to a general counselor to discuss these complicated feelings and emotions. However, a general counselor may not have the necessary skills to address all of these complicated emotions. Therefore, it may be beneficial to turn to a counselor who has additional training in navigating hearing loss. These specialized counselors may not be available in all locations. However, you can always ask your family doctor or your ENT specialist for any recommendations that they may have regarding this.
In addition to finding a counselor who may be deaf aware, there are other specialists who may help you navigate this process. One type of specialist is what is commonly referred to as a hearing therapist. The hearing therapist will help the patient develop skills to use their new devices, such as hearing aids or cochlear implants. They will also help the patients hone other skills that make it easier for them to navigate their new listening environment.
Counseling can be necessary for anyone navigating hearing loss, but it can be invaluable for families of infants and young children who are experiencing hearing loss. Parents often feel a profound sense of loss when their child is diagnosed, as well as fear about what this will mean for their child’s future. This counseling can help them navigate the future of their children. In general, this counseling falls into two broad categories: (1) informational counseling and (2) adjustment to hearing loss counseling.
As the name suggests, informational counseling is rooted in providing parents and children with essential information about the child’s type of hearing loss. It also uncovers what treatment options are available for them and how the selected treatment option will impact the kind of education that they can receive and flourish with. This counseling is designed to prepare parents to be advocates for their children as they make informed care decisions.
On the other hand, adjustment to hearing loss counseling works to give parents and children the skills to deal with their new environment. This type of counseling is family-focused and also takes into account the individual characteristics of each child and family.
In addition to the organizations and companies noted above that are important to help navigate aspects of the hearing loss journey, there are also umbrella organizations. One of the most important umbrella organizations is The Hearing Loss Association of America.
The organization’s website offers extensive information about hearing aids and cochlear implants, serving as a clearinghouse of reliable information. But, this is not all. The organization also provides a comprehensive search program. A user can enter their location, and from there, the website connects them with qualified professionals in their local area. In fact, the website not only provides the names but also provides a link so that a user can go directly to the audiologists’ own websites. Other useful organizations are:
In addition to these umbrella organizations, there are also a host of state agencies in each state dedicated to providing assistance to individuals who are dealing with hearing loss. The contact details for these state agencies can be found in the links provided below.
Below is a list of these relevant state organizations.
Official organizations and medical professionals are a great starting point for resources for those experiencing hearing loss. However, sometimes, the most important resources and information come from other people who have encountered the same situation. One great option to touch base with a large group is via Mayo Clinic Connect. This group brings together a large number of people dealing with hearing loss and allows them to ask questions and share information. However, it is important to remember that information exchanged in those types of forums is not moderated or vetted. Because of this, it is important to also turn to your medical professionals if you have questions.