Even though I’ve lived with hearing loss for over 35 years — and our world is supposedly getting more evolved — it’s still surprising to me when I come across evidence of how little regard society has for hearing loss, its ramifications, and for people who suffer from it.
Consider the following example, recently highlighted by the Hearing Health Foundation: In March, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommended against screening older adults for hearing loss. The organization “concludes that the current evidence is insufficient to assess the balance of benefits and harms of screening for hearing in older adults.”
Um, what?! Pun intended.
In the United States, 1 in 2 adults who are 65 years or older have a hearing loss. Not only that, but about 25 percent of those hearing-impaired adults don’t even know they have hearing loss (and others probably know but don’t want to deal with it).
There is a prevailing idea in our society that hearing loss isn’t a big deal; it’s a nuisance for others to have to repeat themselves, or communicate with the hearing-impaired, but little regard is given to how it impacts the person experiencing it. Studies show that untreated and undiagnosed hearing loss is associated with dementia, falls, depression, and social isolation. That’s not even getting into the profound impact it can have on quality of life, employment, relationships, and other critical factors.
The USPSTF’s disregard for hearing screening is indicative of a few things: First, that hearing loss is still not taken seriously. Second, they aren’t recommending screening because the current treatment — hearing aids — isn’t utilized by the majority of people with hearing loss, and it isn’t covered by most insurance, making the cost out-of-reach for many Americans.
It’s not a big secret that health insurance companies aren’t really designed to keep us healthy; they are for-profit companies that have raked in billions in profits, even during the pandemic. I doubt they want to cover hearing screenings in older adults, because then they’d have to start covering hearing aids, too.
When will hearing loss be given the urgent attention it deserves? When will the government, health officials, and insurance executives start to treat hearing impairment like a real issue? Not anytime soon, it seems.