Hearing loss can have a disruptive effect on daily life for the millions who experience it. However, according to a new study, many adults are negatively affecting their quality of life by not seeking treatment for the condition.

A woman has a hearing aid fitted.Share on Pinterest
Around 16% of adults aged 20-69 who would benefit from using a hearing aid have ever tried one.

The findings of the study were presented at the 2015 American Psychological Association Convention, held this year in Toronto, Canada.

“Many hard-of-hearing people battle silently with their invisible hearing difficulties, straining to stay connected to the world around them, reluctant to seek help,” reports David Myers, a psychology professor at Hope College in Michigan who has hearing loss.

According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), around 15% of American adults – around 37.5 million people – report some trouble with their hearing.

Hearing aids work by amplifying certain sounds to the wearer. Although hearing aids are well known to improve the hearing and communication skills of many people with hearing loss, a large number of people who would benefit from the devices do not use them.

The NIDCD estimate that among adults aged 70 and over who would benefit from using a hearing aid, less than 1 in 3 have ever used one (30%), and only 16% of adults aged 20-69 who would benefit have tried using one.

Like many people with hearing loss, Myers was resistant to getting treatment for his condition. Although his hearing loss began when he was a teenager, it was not until he reached his 40s that he first got a hearing aid.

The National Center for Health Statistics state that people wait for an average of 6 years from the first signs of hearing loss before receiving treatment for it. Myers says that this delay can be due to denial, vanity and a lack of awareness of how much their hearing is impaired.

A study conducted by the National Council on Aging revealed, however, the associated problems that come with not using a hearing aid. In a study of 2,304 people with hearing loss, researchers found those who did not use hearing aids were 50% more likely to have depression than those who did use the devices.

Fast facts about hearing loss
  • Around 2-3 children in every 1,000 children in the US are born with a detectable level of hearing loss
  • Hearing aids primarily benefit people whose hearing loss is caused by damaged to small sensory cells in the ear
  • Damage to these cells can occur through aging, disease or injury.

Learn more about hearing loss

Hearing aid users were also more likely to take part in regular social activities. This social isolation among people with hearing loss could increase the risk of dementia, Myers suggests, citing an earlier study published in the Archives of Neurology1, that indicated hearing loss in itself could be a risk factor for the condition.

“Anger, frustration, depression and anxiety are all common among people who find themselves hard of hearing,” Myers explains. “Getting people to use the latest in hearing aid technology can help them regain control of their life, and achieve emotional stability and even better cognitive functioning.”

One way to combat the psychological effects of hearing loss is to improve the provision for those affected by the condition in public spaces. Myers suggests the hearing loop system that is popular in the UK and Scandinavia could help people with hearing loss become more social.

The system enables hearing aids to serve as wireless speakers and is particularly effective in areas where there is typically a lot of background noise or reverberant sound, such as train stations and auditoriums.

“Making public spaces directly hearing aid accessible is psychologically important for people with hearing loss,” Myers concludes.

Earlier this year, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that around 1.1 billion teenagers and young adults face the risk of hearing loss due to exposure to unsafe levels of sounds. In response, Medical News Today took a look at a number of different hearing protectors available to the public.