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It’s All About Your Hearing.

Did You Know That Big Brother is Looking Out For Your Hearing Health?

By Nobuko Ito, Au.D.

Board Certified Audiologist

By the People, For the People

“Hearing is Important to the Health of the Nation!” This message has grown louder and more urgent with each passing generation, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.

The prevention agenda for the United States Healthy People 2020 is a national health promotion and disease prevention initiative created by the Federal Government to provide a framework for monitoring progress toward identifying and reducing significant, preventable health problems, increasing the quality and years of healthy life, and eliminating health disparities.

We’re All Getting Older

The aging of our country is a national concern. The number of Americans age 65 and older is projected to more than double from 46 million today to over 98 million by 2060, and the 65-and-older age group’s share of the total population will rise to nearly 24 percent from 15 percent according to the Population Reference Bureau.  The number of individuals with hearing loss has grown by 160% compared to the previous generation, according to a recent survey. Our growing population of older individuals will place greater demands on all age-related health care issues, particularly on hearing health care.

Hearing Health for Everyone

In addition to the focus on hearing health, there is a growing concern for our aging nation including topics on genomics, cancer, diabetes, vision, and heart disease. The Healthy People 2020 initiative addresses these areas of concern, and includes 16 goals related to hearing, including objectives to increase the proportion of person who have done the items below:

  1. Get referred by their primary care physician for a hearing test
  2. Wear hearing aids
  3. Use ear protection

The message to the people of the nation is “Get your hearing tested and use hearing aids!”  It is well known that hearing loss has been associated with increased risk of dementia,  increased falling, depression, shrinking gray matter in the brain, and poorer health. According to WebMD:

“Older adults who experience hearing loss may be at increased risk of developing dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. And the risk of dementia likely increases as hearing loss worsens.

Those are among the major findings of a new study aimed at addressing possible solutions to the exploding problem of dementia, which is estimated will afflict 100 million people worldwide by the year 2050.”

Hearing Loss Hurts Our Economy

Those with hearing loss are found to have decreased earning power in the United States. In 2007, the cost to the economy of lost income due to hearing loss was estimated to be in excess of $100 billion dollars annually. According to the Project Hope Study, those with a severe hearing loss still in the workplace are expected to earn only 50-70 percent of their non-hearing impaired peers and lose between $220,000 and $440,000 in earnings over their working life. Unfortunately, these costs only cover earning potential and neglect intangible losses, such as the social isolation and psychological stress imposed by hearing impairment, which impact our healthcare system with excessive costs. 

Growing Concern for Our Next Generation

In addition, the upcoming generation has a marked increase of 30% in the rate of hearing loss, says researcher Gary C. Curhan MD, ScD, associate professor of medicine and epidemiology at Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health. The culprit is long hours of earphone use. With today’s devices, we have long battery life, unlike the Walkmans of the past which gave us limited use. Today, we can see young people wearing earphones all day, and oftentimes at a loud volume.

What To Do?

Wisely, the Healthy People 2020 states that we must “Increase the proportion of persons who have had a hearing examination on schedule” in addition to “Increase the use of hearing protection devices.” With this national initiative, we can become more aware of the need for regular hearing check ups, just like eye check ups and dental check ups. Don't make the mistake of getting your hearing evaluated at a retail center, though. Make sure you choose a doctor of Audiology at a medical clinic. Your insurance plan will likely cover you for this evaluation. For more information, visit HearBright’s site.