There is a lot of resistance to hearing aids based on the fact that they may make one look ‘old’ or ‘dated’. When people describe this, they are often describing a fear of ‘ageism’ or stereotyping and discriminating against individuals on the basis of their age, specifically seniors. We’re going to examine this issue and discover ways to combat it.
Is Ageism Real?
Where do we see it in our culture? I would gently suggest you turn on your television. How many TV / film actors are over the age of 65? 55 even? In America, youth, beauty, and vitality are highly valued. As such, these traits often determine one’s power status.
In a ‘Can Do’ nation, what happens when you’re seen as someone who ‘Can’t Do’ anymore?
JFK declared, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” America is a society that values production and personal contribution. Good health is seen as essential to making a powerful contribution whereas aging is associated with declining health and an inability to contribute. This is an unfair stereotype when you consider that the current Senior community is three times the size of any previous generation. Additionally, they are known for being active and engaged; making up almost 30% of the voting population in 2010.
Doris Roberts (from the tv show “Everybody Loves Raymond”) said it best: “My peers and I are portrayed as dependent, helpless, unproductive and demanding rather than deserving. In reality, the majority of seniors are self-sufficient, middle-class consumers with more assets than most young people, and the time and talent to offer society.”
What About Hearing Loss?
Let’s start from the beginning though; is hearing loss really solely a senior disability? According to the Center of Hearing and Communication, 12% or 38 million Americans have a significant hearing loss. Of that 38 million, 65% (the majority) are below retirement age. Additionally, of the 10 million Americans aged 45 to 64 who have a hearing loss, 6 out of 7 do not yet benefit from wearing a hearing aid. If you follow those numbers, you will notice we are creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. As our society puts off wearing hearing aids until they are unbearably necessary (7 – 10 years after the fact) we delineate hearing loss solely as a senior condition.
What Are The Effects?
Medically, this delay of treatment for hearing loss is quite serious. Frank Lin, MD, an otologist and epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University, ran a study researching the possible connection between hearing loss and dementia. Dr. Lin and his colleagues tracked the overall cognitive abilities (concentration, memory, planning skills, etc.) of nearly 2,000 adults over the age of 65. After six years, those with hearing loss were 24% more likely to see their cognitive abilities diminish, than those who had normal hearing. Untreated hearing loss seemed to speed up age related cognitive decline. In short: as we avoid looking older, we allow parts of our brains to diminish and age at a faster rate.
Emotionally, the effects are equally discouraging. The Seniors Research Group conducted a study researching the link between hearing loss and depression. Their survey of 2,300 hard of hearing adults aged 50 and above revealed that those who did not treat their hearing loss were more likely to experience depression, anxiety, paranoia, and were less likely to seek out social activities.
When we translate this to the workplace; The Hearing Loss Association of America tells us that while people in the workplace with the mildest hearing losses show little or no drop in income compared to those with normal hearing, as the hearing loss increases, so does the decrease in compensation.
What Does This All Mean?
In short, untreated hearing loss can lead to decreased cognitive abilities as well as emotional distress. This means we actually age faster by trying to slow it all down. It affects our productivity and compensation in the workplace and our emotional well-being in relationships. We can’t hear conversations therefore we don’t participate. Slowly, we feel tuned out, but it can be us who are tuning out the world.
What Can We Do?
Ageism is a very real element of our society but we can combat it by taking control of our health. We start wearing hearing aids when we need them (read: earlier and younger). We normalize them by telling people we wear them. We start talking about what amazing technology hearing aids contain, rather than how invisible they are. We start talking about the dangers of letting your hearing loss go untreated. We tell our friends about affordable alternatives, like Audicus. Most importantly, we walk proudly knowing that we are making an empowered choice to nurture ourselves and the ones we love physically, financially, and emotionally.