The hearing loss challenge

A recent survey indicates 45% of adults have difficulty hearing. If true, it is likely you or someone in your circle has hearing loss — even if you don’t know it. Ask 10 of your friends and neighbors, and you’ll probably find 4 that experience hearing difficulty at least occasionally. You might be surprised to learn that one friend has been wearing a hearing aid for years. That is because today’s hearing aids offer an incredible array of features and benefits in tiny, imperceptible devices (more on that later). In other words, modern hearing aids are hardly noticeable. And maybe that is part of the problem.
10 people icons, 4 highlighted and one partially highlighted

45% of American adults have some difficulty hearing. Source: AudiologyOnline.com, “Study Reveals: Many Americans Decide Against a Treatment for Their Hearing Loss”

Though still prevalent, hearing loss is not as obvious as it once was. Ironically, advancing technology makes us less aware of the problem all around us and, therefore, less likely to talk about it. However, we need to change that. Why? Because, ultimately, hearing loss affects everyone.

Hearing loss by the numbers

After age 70, half of us will experience significant hearing loss, while the other half, who may hear as well as ever, will almost certainly know—perhaps even live with—someone who does not. And yet, of the millions of people who could benefit from hearing aids, fewer than 1 in 5 have ever tried them. (See more hearing loss statistics at nih.gov.)
Chart showing increased chance of hearing loss with age, from less than 25 percent chance at age 18 to nearly 50 percent chance at age 70.
Words and phrases like “disability,” “disorder,” and “hearing impairment,” misguide the conversation around hearing health. Worse, they engender the false fear that hearing loss must somehow diminish our value or derail what we hope to accomplish.
But hearing loss, even profound hearing loss like mine, does not have to slow us down any more than wearing glasses or going gluten-free. So, if you have difficulty hearing, or know someone who does, here are five simple effective suggestions that may help.

5 ways to live better with hearing loss

1. Acknowledge your hearing loss

We live in an increasingly tolerant and diverse world where most of us are eager to accept, encourage, and help. Mention the words “gluten free” and friends immediately suggest great lunch spots with excellent menu choices. Talk about getting in shape and colleagues enthusiastically cheer you on (and may even join you at the gym). Being upfront about your hearing will increase awareness and strengthen your support system. So, go ahead. Talk about it. You will quickly find yourself feeling more empowered, not less.

2. Get help

Better living starts with better information. So, do not resist making that audiology appointment. Talk to your doctor about your specific experience and discover the wide range of options for improved hearing. Involve your family and friends, too. They can help you navigate and process new information, and help you optimize listening environments at home and work. And they will learn from you!

3. Take advantage of technology

As a professional designer and longtime accessibility advocate for Apple, I have a passion for good tech. For me, getting a new hearing aid is like getting a new iPhone! The new features are often just as robust and useful, too, like direct streaming, noise cancellation and reduction, and adaptive listening. (Of course, you still may want headphones for the airplane, otherwise your neighbor won’t know you’re watching a movie!)

4. Have healthy conversations

Scientific research suggests that gratitude and kindness improves personal performance, happiness, and health. Share your positive experiences and enthusiasm for what you are learning. Maybe even brag about your new hearing tech a little. You will feel happier. And, like ripples in a pond, your story will help change the larger conversation around your hearing.

5. Conquer life

Of course, we can do more than talk positively about our hearing health. We can be positive examples of how to live, regardless of how we hear. We can be a role model, an advocate or a mentor. We can change the conversation around hearing loss. We can encourage people to get help and manage their hearing better. And, when someone notices our hearing aid or asks for advice, we can inspire them do more than just live with hearing loss. Together, we can conquer life.

#HearingLossChallenge

I invite you to take the hearing loss challenge. How many people do you know who sometimes have difficulty hearing? Please share your findings in the comments section.
Bill Schiffmiller is the CEO and Founder of Akoio, a company dedicated to providing products and services tailored to the needs of people with hearing loss. A life-long hearing aid user and hearing wellness advocate, Bill was the former Accessibility Advocate for Apple, Inc., and received his Master of Professional Studies degree in Design Management at Pratt Institute.