One of the biggest challenges we face as a hearing healthcare provider is tackling the perception of hearing loss and hearing aids. Age-related hearing loss is more common than a lot of people realise and can start as early as your 50s. Twenty percent of the UK population has some degree of hearing loss, which increases to 40% of over 50s. So even as young as 50, there’s a good chance you’ve got some degree of hearing loss.
Putting it off
But people put off getting their hearing checked. And by put off, we mean they wait not months, or even a year or two, but often 9 or 10 years (according to the WHO).
People often assume they’ll be made fun of for wearing hearing aids. This is completely untrue. The ultimate irony is that the majority of people who do wear hearing aids (71%) say they’re never poked fun at because of their hearing loss, compared to just 27% living with an unaided loss.
One of the enduring misconceptions of hearing aids is the unsightly ‘beige banana’. But this is the equivalent of being asked to think of a mobile phone and having an image of a 1990s, Nokia ‘brick’ in mind. Technology has moved on.
Hearing aids aren’t reserved for the elderly
Wearing hearing aids doesn’t mean you’re old. Look at some of our case studies. People like Sandra Pierce , Alex Slight, and Lindy Pieri have all benefited from hearing aids, but none of them would consider for a second calling themselves ‘old’. The perception of hearing loss is the problem. In fact, according to a study by Hidden Hearing and YouGov, hearing loss is one of the top three stigmatising aspects of ageing, behind forgetfulness and frailty.
But hearing loss can be easily treated with hearing aids whose benefits cannot be overstated. They can increase your chances (sixfold!) of being happier than those who don’t wear them, improve your relationships and social life. Hearing aids benefit your physical and mental well-being.
Refusing to acknowledge that your hearing might not be as good as it was in your 20s is simply not pragmatic.
Treat your hearing like your eyesight
Despite all these benefits, the associations remain. One in three of us will get an eye test this year, but only one in ten will get a hearing test. The connection between good hearing and youth is much stronger than eyesight. Glasses are no longer just a medical device but a fashion statement. Some people even wear them with clear frames.
Will hearing aids follow suit as an accessory? They no longer just come in ‘beige’ but various colours to suit your preferences. We’ve even teamed up with DeafMetal, a hearing-aid-jewellery designer, to customise your aids even further.
Hearing aids haven’t caught up with their optical brethren, but we’re starting to see some very small cracks appear in the barriers between hearing aids and the lingering, ‘ageism’ stigma.
Deafness and hearing aids in mainstream media
Last year, Rose Ayling-Ellis became the first deaf contestant on Strictly Come Dancing, and ultimately won. She then became the first celebrity to deliver the cBeebies Bedtime Story in British Sign Language.
This year, Tasha Ghouri became the first deaf Love Island contestant. This followed Troy Kotsur becoming the first deaf actor to win an individual Oscar for his performance in CODA, 36 years after Marlee Matlin became the first deaf performer to win an Academy Award (Best Actress, 1986).
And this year, Steve Martin’s comedy whodunnit, Only Murders in the Building, featured an entire episode with ‘no audible dialogue’. And while profound hearing loss or deafness is a slightly different sphere to that in which we operate, anything that puts people’s hearing and communication challenges in the spotlight is a good thing.
Last year also saw the release of the Oscar-winning Sound of Metal, about a drummer who suffers life-changing, noise-induced hearing loss. And in May 2022, Barbie announced their first doll to feature a hearing aid as part of their Fashionistas line, designed to “celebrate the importance of inclusion,” according to Lisa McKnight, executive vice president and global head of Barbie and Dolls at Mattel.
It feels like the importance of our hearing health, and the acceptance of wearing hearing aids, is finally starting to gain the traction it deserves.
To get your hearing tested, for free, just follow the link. Or just to get a general idea of how well you can hear, you can take our online hearing test. It’s free and will only take you about five minutes.
“A Global Study on Wellbeing and Quality of Life”, YouGov, 24,000 adults, across 14 countries, December 2021.