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Researchers at The University of Manchester recently published the first-ever study quantifying the prevalence of hearing difficulty in a large sample size of middle-aged people in the UK.

Of the 164,770 people who took the DTT hearing test, 10.7 percent were hearing impaired, but only 2.1 percent used a hearing aid. That means only 20 percent of the population that was hearing-impaired and needed hearing aids actually had them!

Hearing-Impaired and Negligent: Low Hearing Aid Adoption

The UK isn’t the only country with low hearing aid adoption—only 25% of Americans with hearing loss wear hearing aids. In fact, underuse has been a problem for more than 30 years, staying constant since the 1980s.

The scientists acknowledged that denial of being hearing-impaired and lack of awareness were two major reasons for low rates of hearing aid use. Those in denial should know that they’re not alone: hearing loss occurs naturally with aging and doesn’t imply illness. In fact, if you have a hearing aid, you’re part of the 20 percent in the UK or 25 percent in the US that’s ahead of the game!

The data show hearing impairment increasing with age, with 40-44 year-olds leading the middle-aged pack in hearing ability with only 6 percent impairment and the 65-69-year-olds trailing behind at 22 percent. The same trend occurred with tinnitus, the ringing in the ears in the absence of sound, as the older groups experienced higher rates of tinnitus.

Higher rates of hearing loss were associated with work and music-related noise exposure, ethnic minorities, and low socioeconomic background. Males had the same risk of hearing loss as women, although obesity in women has been linked to a higher risk for hearing loss. Male obesity could also be linked to hearing impairment, but no studies have been performed or have yielded conclusive results yet.

Hearing-Impaired Lifestyle and Hearing Aids

Although lifestyle choices contribute to risk for hearing loss, these observations reveal that living conditions also play a large role in hearing impairment, representing health inequality.

Hearing loss cannot be treated, but affordable hearing aids provide the first step toward mitigating evident health inequality. Not only are the hearing aids much less expensive, but they’re also invisible and fashion-conscious.

Much of the reluctance of using hearing aids stems from fear of being perceived as impaired or ill since they used to be difficult to conceal. The technological advances in hearing aids since the 1980s have resulted in these invisible, affordable hearing aids and even completely invisible cochlear implants.

If only 20 percent of middle-aged people in the United Kingdom who need hearing aids have them, simple awareness of concealable, economical hearing aids can help the other 80 percent (and other 75 percent in America) improve their standard of living!

by Diana Ruan