Dennis Hampton, Ph.D
280 Mamaroneck Ave.
White Plains, New York 10605
(914) 761-4455

The Effects of Untreated Hearing Loss

The National Council on the Aging (NCOA) recently surveyed more than 2,300 people 50 years of age and over to determine the effects of hearing loss on their lives. The study also surveyed more than 2,000 family members to measure family members' perceptions of the effects of hearing loss and hearing aid use.

According to the NCOA report, more than 10 million Americans between the ages of 45 and 64 years, and more than 9 million Americans over the age of 64 have significant hearing loss. However, many-in fact, most--people with hearing loss have never sought treatment for their hearing difficulties.

The results of the survey provide insight on:

    1. the benefits reported by those who use hearing aids (compared to those who don't);
    2. the factors that prevent people with significant hearing loss from seeking help.

Hearing Aid Users
According to the survey results, adults over 50 years of age who have hearing loss and use hearing aids report:

  • better relationships with their families;
  • greater independence;
  • improved social life.

Interestingly, family members consistently reported even greater improvements in all these areas than did the hearing aid users themselves. Family members appeared to notice more benefits due to hearing aid use than did the person with the hearing loss.

Non-Hearing Aid Users
The questionnaire results also indicated that people who don't seek help report significantly more negative effects of their hearing loss. Compared to hearing aid users, non-hearing aid users were more likely to report:

  • less social activity;
  • more episodes of sadness and depression;
  • more episodes of feeling tense, irritable or anxious.

These differences were found even when accounting for such factors as age, gender and degree of hearing loss.

Barriers to Seeking Help
What prevents someone with a hearing loss from seeking help?

The most frequently reported reason for not using hearing aids was "my hearing isn't bad enough." Even individuals who reported severe hearing difficulties cited this reason. Other commonly reported reasons were "the cost of hearing aids" and the belief that "hearing aids wouldn't help."

The NCOA study provides important insights into the effects of hearing loss on individuals and their families, the barriers to seeking help and the benefits of hearing aid use. As the NCOA investigators recommended:

"(We) should encourage people who are suspected of having a
hearing loss to seek appropriate screening, diagnosis and treatment."

You can help by telling others about your own hearing difficulties and experiences (many people with hearing loss seem to think their hearing problems are unusual). In our opinion, the most important step is simply to get an audiology evaluation. A hearing test doesn't hurt-and we never heard anyone complain if the results indicate normal hearing!