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Sensory Awareness Demographics & Statistics Glossary

Hearing Loss: Subtle Aids Combating Stigma

1 week, 2 days ago

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Posted on Jul 03, 2024, 3 p.m.

In the U.S., hearing loss is one of the most common disabilities, affecting almost 4% of the population. While age is the largest predictor of hearing loss, among those over the age of 18 years old, many people experience some level of deafness from birth. On average, up to two in every 1,000 babies born have some degree of detectable hearing loss in one or both ears. Despite these numbers, a surprisingly large percentage of those with hearing loss do not wear hearing aids. 

While the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders estimates that around 28.8 million people can benefit from wearing hearing aids, 16% have never used them. Outside of those who choose to embrace their deafness, many of those who opt not to wear aids are influenced by the shame and stigmatization they feel around these devices. This underscores the need for a cultural and societal reset that doesn’t judge a person’s healthcare needs. Fortunately, smaller and more subtle hearing aid options have hit the market.

The reality of hearing loss in the US

Contrary to mainstream belief, hearing loss or deafness is a spectrum. This means anyone with pronounced hearing loss can be considered part of the deaf spectrum.

In fact, according to a recent report by the World Health Organization (WHO), most people with hearing loss fall under the mild end of the spectrum. People with deafness under this severity level are sometimes called hard of hearing.

Meanwhile, those with zero functional hearing, which is called profound deafness, make up the smallest population in the community, coming in at just 0.2%.

Unfortunately, mainstream society still often generalizes the deaf community. This means overlooking the nuances of the deaf spectrum and wrongly assuming that most or all individuals with hearing loss require significant assistance.

Stigma, scrutiny, and bias

As such, many in the deaf community have faced scrutiny and bias. In many cases, deaf people have reported being treated as incapable or less. As audiologists on Forbes Health note, society tends not to accept or accommodate deafness or hearing loss.

Now, because deafness typically doesn’t present itself as obviously as other disabilities, like blindness, some people in the deaf community try not to draw further attention to themselves. One of the most common ways this is done is by foregoing hearing aids.

According to a 2024 survey, almost half of all respondents said they believe there is a stigma around wearing hearing aids. Many respondents said they worry that a hearing aid makes them look older. Another primary reason was the fear of looking like they had a cognitive impairment.

Interestingly, similar studies published in The Gerontologist Medical Journal determined that wearing a hearing aid also triggered self-biases. Many respondents shared that wearing these assistive devices altered their self-perception negatively, with some saying it made them feel like they’d be made fun of. As a result of these, 66% of respondents said they would be more willing to wear a hearing aid if it was invisible.

Subtle hearing aids in the market today

With the abovementioned state of hearing loss and hearing aid perception in the US, the assistive hearing industry has created more devices that are easier to camouflage and use inconspicuously.

This is an important initiative, given that using hearing aids regularly among those who need them has been found to improve communication, cognition, safety, and overall wellness. Many who regularly wear hearing aids have even reported feeling a better bond with loved ones and colleagues.

In 2023, an independent study commissioned by Sennheiser found that one in three people were embarrassed to wear hearing aids. As a comparison, only one in ten felt that way about wearing glasses. 

Hearing aid glasses

As such, it’s fitting that Nuance Audio has come out with hearing aid glasses. Designed to be an all-in-one vision and hearing solution, these glasses come in two classic models to suit different styles. This includes the more angular-framed square model and the more rounded Panthos. Each one is available in two colorways and can be upgraded with prescription and photochromic lenses.

These glasses create an intersection between better sight and improved hearing by integrating a discreet air-conduction hearing aid. This can amplify sound for those with mild to moderate hearing loss. Using beamforming technology, background noise can also be cut down, so it's easier for users to home in on their tasks at hand.

Alternatively, the glasses can also be adjusted to create 360-degree amplification so users can take in all their surroundings. To tailor the experience, an intuitive app allows users to calibrate the glasses’ settings to their liking. Since these look like regular glasses, they can blend seamlessly with a person’s daily attire.

Tiny wireless earbud hearing aids

Some companies have also created invisible hearing aids for those who don't wear glasses. For example, Eargo has created a highly advanced wireless earbud-like aid that tucks neatly into the ear canal. Unlike traditional hearing aids, this one doesn’t have the bulky component that juts out of the ear, nor does it have the obvious tubes and wires. 

A fourth-generation model, this rechargeable bud comes in a set of two. Using a smartphone-compatible app, these buds can be personalized to match different environments that necessitate varying approaches to sound immersion. These include attending the cinema, attending meetings, participating in large gatherings, and simply being out in a busy public area. The app also allows users to tweak the bass and treble in each ear. This way, users can cater to the unique needs that each ear may have.

Take away

In closing, while wearing traditional or visible hearing aids should not be seen as a sign of weakness or inferiority, those in the deaf and hard-of-hearing community must have the freedom to choose aids they feel more comfortable in.

With these less obvious hearing aids widely available today, those with hearing loss can now enjoy a new sense of empowerment without compromising their own style or confidence. 

This article was written for WHN by RUTH ANN JOHN who is a freelance writer who enjoys writing about health, wellness, and sustainability. When she’s not typing away at her keyboard, you can find her completing an oil painting or doing DIY projects.

As with anything you read on the internet, this article should not be construed as medical advice; please talk to your doctor or primary care provider before changing your wellness routine. This article is not intended to provide a medical diagnosis, recommendation, treatment, or endorsement. These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. 

Opinion Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy of WHN/A4M. Any content provided by guest authors is of their own opinion and is not intended to malign any religion, ethnic group, club, organization, company, individual, or anyone or anything. 

Content may be edited for style and length.

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