May is Better Hearing and Speech Month

Each May, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) celebrates Better Hearing and Speech Month (BHSM). The goal is to spread awareness of communication issues and inspire better and broader treatment of those issues. The theme for 2021 is “Building Connections,” and what an appropriate theme for the moment! 

We can imagine a couple different interpretations of how building connections is important for this time. For one, we need to build the connections in our minds between hearing loss and the issues that arise from it. Many people leave their hearing loss untreated for far too long, often not understanding that some of the other issues they’re having with their health and well-being may be related to hearing loss. 

For another, COVID-19 has kept many of us indoors and sheltered from the world, family, and friends for the past year. As vaccination rates rise, we are slowly seeing a return to something like normal life, and it will be important going forward to build connections with those around us as we re-engage with social life. For more information and weekly updates as the month continues, head to ASHA’s website.

Hearing Loss Remains Undertreated

Earlier this month, ASHA published a press release regarding a new study that shows that hearing loss is undertreated even in spite of the fact that people consider their hearing health to be important to them. It’s long been known that hearing loss is undertreated. Only about one out of five people who need hearing aids are wearing them, and we tend to wait an average of seven years from the time we notice hearing loss to the time we pursue hearing aids. 

While 80% of Americans rate their hearing health as important or very important to them, only 20% have had a hearing test in the past five years. (Compare that to 61% who have had a vision test on the same timeline.) 51% of people surveyed said they have hearing issues, but only 11% have sought treatment. Most have noticed these hearing issues for over a year, and 35% have noticed them for over five years. And even while 42% understand that even mild hearing loss can have an impact on lifestyle and daily functioning, 56% said they would not pursue treatment for their hearing loss unless it became severe.

Perhaps the reason we see such widespread inaction on hearing loss is a problem of “critical mass.” When we see our friends and neighbors having hearing issues and not seeking treatment for them, it’s easy to imagine that it’s not important for us, either. And while most of us get a regular checkup at the doctor’s office, a hearing screening is not a usual part of that (even though hearing tests are recommended every three years for those aged 50 and above). Most insurance companies do not currently cover the costs of hearing treatment, creating an additional financial barrier to many people in making sure their hearing ability is not preventing them from living life. It seems that at multiple levels of society, hearing health is unfortunately not a priority.

Hearing Loss Is Not Benign

Study after study confirms that hearing loss tends to create a “cascade of negative effects” that range from social isolation, loneliness and depression all the way to earlier onset of cognitive decline and dementia. People with mild hearing loss report a subjective sense of memory impairment at a much higher rate than those with normal hearing. Hearing loss tends to make us less socially and physically active, which are both disastrous to our general health and well-being.

Hearing Aids Can Help

The good news is that hearing aids can help. When asked after one year of wearing them, people report satisfaction with their hearing aids at a rate of 95%. Those who treat their hearing loss with hearing aids are more physically and socially active, have greater self-esteem and optimism, and even tend to be more optimistic about the state of the world in general. In short, people who treat their hearing loss with hearing aids tend to be happier

If you or a loved one is experiencing issues related to hearing loss, or if you’re due for a hearing test, make an appointment today with us at Mt. Hood Hearing and celebrate this Better Hearing and Speech Month by bettering your hearing!