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How New Tech Innovation Can Help Clients Whose Loved Ones Have Hearing Loss

March 25, 2019 
Laurie Orlov

New devices are giving people with hearing loss more options to consider

Laurie Orlov
Laurie is a tech industry veteran, writer, speaker, and founder of Aging in Place Technology Watch. She conducts market research, follows trends, and writes reports about technologies and services that enable boomers and seniors to remain longer in their home of choice.

Two thirds of Americans in their 70s have hearing loss.1 Yet many resist wearing a hearing aid or even getting a hearing test. In fact, among adults age 70 and older who could benefit from hearing aids, only 30 percent have ever used them.2 This is dangerous because hearing loss and the subsequent inability to participate in phone conversations or family gatherings puts them at risk of social isolation.

Additionally, untreated hearing loss is correlated with poor health, including a heightened risk of falling and dementia. Research has found that compared with people of normal hearing, those with moderate hearing loss had triple the risk of developing dementia.1 Fortunately, new hearing devices are not only becoming more affordable but also less noticeable.

 

What we’ll cover:

  • Why so few hearing-impaired people wear hearing aids
  • New hearing tech
  • What to do if your loved one isn’t interested

 

First, Why Are Hearing-impaired People So Reluctant to Wear Hearing Aids?

Experts believe that it’s a combination of things: denial, the stigma associated with wearing hearing aids, and the expense. Prices can range from $1,000 to $4,000 for each device—and most people need two.3 What's more, the majority of insurance companies don't cover hearing aids.4 In addition to cost, people don’t want them because they make us feel “old.” The desire not to look old overpowers the physical need to hear better. Fortunately, today there are many options in addition to traditional hearing aids. Finally, they’re not easy to get. You can’t get hearing aids without testing and a consultation with a doctor or audiologist.

 

Your Loved One Probably Doesn’t Want a Hearing Aid

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Source: Quick Statistics About Hearing, National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, 12/15/16. Most recent data available.

 

Second, What’s New in Hearing Technology

  • Self-Administered Hearing Tests
    If clients are concerned that your loved one is suffering from hearing loss but they’re not yet willing to visit an audiologist, they could suggest self-testing. There are a number of at-home, online tests that can provide preliminary insight, and some tests help also assess ability to hear others in potentially noisy environments.
  •  

  • Personal Sound Amplification Products (PSAPs)
    PSAPs are a lower-cost option for mild-to-moderate hearing loss. They are devices placed in the ear to help amplify sounds. For those in this category, PSAPs might be a first step to improve hearing, but according to the Hearing Industries Association, fewer than 10% of those who report hearing loss actually have them. Consumer Reports has published test results of 18 of these PSAPs. Most PSAPs cost less than $500 each. Guides to PSAPs are regularly updated, including 2018 lists from Everyday Hearing.

    PSAPs are not tailored to an individual’s specific hearing loss. The PSAPs on the market today look similar to hearing aids, are marketed to those with hearing loss just as hearing aids are, and are often much less expensive. For those looking for low-cost hearing aids or those that don’t think their hearing is “bad enough” to warrant a hearing aid, it is understandable why a PSAP is being utilized instead.

    PSAPs are on the market today, but legally they can't be called or marketed as hearing aids. But after August 2020, a new law goes into effect that will allow several PSAPs to be called hearing aids.5 The new law will allow hearing aids to be sold over the counter, without the help of an audiologist.

    Before your clients loved one buys a PSAP, suggest that clients take their loved one for a professional test with an audiologist their hearing to see if one of these might be appropriate for them.

  •  

  • The Emergence of Hearables
    Like PSAPs, hearables are wireless earbuds and headsets that amplify sound for individuals who wear them, typically for people with very mild hearing loss or a need to enhance sound quality. Sometimes referred to as smart audio devices, these can enhance the listening experience, particularly for music. But hearables can also offer step tracking, sync to a smartphone for phone calls, and even translate languages.
  •  

  • Self-Service Smartphone Apps for Those With Hearing Aids
    There’s a do-it-yourself app for every hearing-related purpose. Some apps help adjust a hearing aid to the environment—a car, theater, or busy restaurant. Other smartphone apps provide hearing self-tests, allow smartphone control of hearing aids, and even produce captions which enable those with significant hearing loss to communicate over the telephones easily. For more information, suggest that clients check out 70+ best apps for each specific use.
  •  

  • An Audiologist Offers a Complete Assessment
    If your client is worried about their loved one’s hearing loss, seeing an audiologist for a full hearing exam is the best option, especially for those with moderate-to-severe hearing loss. An audiologist can prescribe the right hearing aids, explain how to adjust them, and determine if a cochlear implant is a good option. And the audiologist typically includes follow-up adjustments as part of the purchase price of hearing aids.
  •  

Hearing Device Options

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HearingAids

Hearing aids can only be purchased through an audiologist, who will evaluate your hearing, then if needed, recommend one that’s tailored to your specific hearing need. Hearing aids vary a great deal in price, size, special features and the way they’re placed in your ear.

 

Hearables

Hearables are wireless, in-ear “computer” hardware that are worn in your ear canal. They’re typically synced to your phone, so you can stream music and phone calls. Many can monitor your heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, and much more.

PSAPs

Personal Sound Amplification Products (PSAPs) are small, electronic amplification devices that are worn in the ear, but they are not hearing aids. Think of hearing aids as equivalent to prescription eyeglasses, while PSAPs are like over-the-counter reading glasses than one can purchase without an exam.

Third, How to Help Clients Whose Loved Ones Aren’t Interested

Let clients know that bringing up the hearing aid conversation with their loved one can be touchy. Suggest that they not be too pushy about it. Clients could mention how hearing tech keeps improving, hearing devices are getting smaller, and they’re getting less expensive. They could also show their loved ones pictures of PSAPs so they can see how small they are. Technology-aware baby boomers may be open to self-serve possibilities before age-related hearing loss worsens and begins to interfere with their quality of life.

 

Next Steps

  1. Download the client piece below.
  2. Suggest that clients consider using some of these recommended talking points to start the conversation about hearing loss with their loved one
  3. Encourage clients to take their loved one to an audiologist to get their hearing checked. Clients should offer to go with them and maybe even get their hearing checked too.
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Source:

1Hearing Loss Linked to Dementia, AARP, 2018

2 Quick Statistics About Hearing, National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, 12/15/16. Most recent data available.

3 Hearing aid prices, Healthy Hearing, 2/13/18

4 Why aren't hearing aids covered by insurance? Healthy Hearing, 8/24/17. Most recent data available.

5 Hearing aids: You ain't heard nothing yet, CBS News, 9/30/18

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Hartford Funds may or may not be invested in the companies referenced herein; however, no particular endorsement of any product or service is being made.

The MIT AgeLab is not an affiliate or subsidiary of Hartford Funds.

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