For many people, hearing loss facts are simply a fact of life. Especially for those 65 and older, your hearing can deteriorate rather quickly. Just as your eyes often slowly get worse with age, the frequency of sounds you hear gets smaller and smaller as you get older. As a quick rule of thumb, if you need reading glasses, chances are you would benefit from at least doing a hearing test, too.
Although hearing loss looks different for everyone, it is a very common health issue. Unfortunately, wearing hearing aids is much less common. One of the most shocking hearing loss facts below shows that only 14% of people with hearing loss use hearing aids – that would mean 41 million Americans are still looking for affordable hearing aids.
Luckily, there are ways to make hearing aids more affordable. Non-prescription hearing aids are taking an increasing share in the market, and both presidents Trump and Biden have taken action to make over-the-counter hearing aids more accessible. You can buy an excellent non-prescription hearing aid for less than $1000, and you can often use your HSA and FSA accounts to buy hearing aids as well.
These changes are necessary, as the hearing loss facts below will show. The effects of hearing loss often stretch beyond simply turning up the volume on the TV. Especially in older people, the effects of hearing loss can extend into other areas as well – for example, it is not uncommon for caretakers to confuse hearing loss with dementia.
Below, I have first summarized the key hearing loss facts in one image. Below the image, I’ll explain each hearing loss fact and provide sources for each of these facts.
Hearing Loss facts and figures
15% of Americans suffer from hearing loss
According to numbers from the CDC, about one in six Americans had hearing loss in at least one ear. This number was about 48 million people between 2001 and 2008. With a population of 305 million Americans in 2008, that comes down to 15.73%. If that percentage stayed the same, with the US’ 2022 population of 338 million, that means that number would be over 53 million in 2022.
These numbers differ, depending on the study you look at. Other studies report some levels of hearing loss in 21% of adults, and the numbers get even more diffuse in some of the following facts. In another big study surveying 34,525 adults, 15% of people self-reported some degree of hearing loss.
At age 65, 1 in 3 people has a degree of hearing loss
Now this number is even more debated. Not that people disagree that hearing loss is common among older people, it’s just how common that’s debated. According to a report from the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, nearly half of people older than 60 years have hearing loss. So let’s just say that somewhere between 33% and 50% of people 60 and older suffer from a degree of hearing loss.
A leading study done in 2008 broke down different reports from other sources to better estimate the total number of people with hearing loss in each age category (starting at age 12). They created an important table with different numbers that shows just how common hearing loss is among people 60 and older. It also shows just how strong the correlation is between age and hearing loss.
As a summary, the four highest age brackets have the following percentages of hearing loss – the percentage of people in that age bracket with a degree of hearing loss.
|Age bracket||Percentage of people with hearing loss|
As a side note, this table also shows the futility of the stigma around wearing a hearing aid. By the time you’re 70 years old, there’s around a 50% chance you simply physically need a hearing aid.
Hearing loss is the third most common chronic physical condition in the US
I almost scrapped this hearing loss fact, because I couldn’t trace the research (but I found it). This one, too, is partly a matter of how you interpret the numbers and how you define physical conditions. Look for physical conditions on Google, and hearing loss usually won’t show up in the numbers. And let’s face it, hearing loss feels less pressing than high cholesterol or coronary heart disease.
But what the numbers consistently show is that hearing loss is prevalent among a large part of the population. Some facts below will demonstrate just how much of a problem that is.
Nearly 6 million people aged 18-44 suffer from hearing loss
And it’s not just an old-people-problem, either. Although there is a strong correlation between age and hearing loss, 6 million people aged 18-44 suffer from the same issues. And I know I start to sound like a broken record, but the exact number is debated. This leading study that I referred to before has slightly different age brackets, but ends up estimating 9.1 million people aged 20-49 suffer from hearing loss.
Hearing loss can increase the chance of, and worsen the effects of dementia
There is a strong link between hearing loss and dementia. First of all, caretakers can often confuse hearing loss for dementia by caretakers. That makes sense, as confusion increases when you have a hard time hearing.
But the link goes deeper than that. I will simply copy the text from John Hopkins University:
In a study that tracked 639 adults for nearly 12 years, Johns Hopkins expert Frank Lin, M.D., Ph.D., and his colleagues found that mild hearing loss doubled dementia risk. Moderate loss tripled risk, and people with a severe hearing impairment were five times more likely to develop dementia.
In the same article, Lin and others find a correlation between hearing health and the risk of falling. Their premise is that your brain (with hearing loss) is so busy processing sounds and making sense of them, that it comes at a loss of other functions, such as balance.
Only 14% of people who need hearing aids, actually wear them
With that last fact in mind, you’d hope that those with hearing loss actually wear their hearing aids. However, they don’t. According to a Hearing Health Foundation survey, around 14% of people with hearing loss use hearing aids. This percentage (or the milder 15-30% from other reports), has been the driving force for political change. Presidents Obama, Trump, and Biden have all been involved in lowering the cost of hearing aids and allowing OTC hearing aids, based on this hearing loss fact.
Other studies support this finding. A Beaver Dam Epidemiology of Hearing Loss Study done by Popelka et al, found that the prevalence of hearing aid use among adults aged 48 to 92 was 14.6% (as quoted by the NAP).
41 million people are looking for affordable hearing aids
Or at least, have hearing loss to the degree that a hearing aid would help them, while not wearing the device. The most important barrier between needing and having hearing aids is cost (according to the same survey from the HHF). The average price tag of $ 5,000 for a pair of prescription hearing aids combined with the poor healthcare insurance coverage means that even with coverage people pay around $2,500 out of pocket. And that’s the minority – less than 40% of people can actually use their health insurance for some of the cost.
For these people, non-prescription hearing aids might be a good solution. Presidents Trump and Biden have both taken steps to make these hearing aids more accessible and more affordable. And while the market opened a little bit for PSAPs (Personal Sound Amplifying Products), these simple sound amplifiers were just the beginning.
One of the first companies to heavily invest in these over-the-counter hearing aids, was Bose. A newer version of these Bose hearing aids is still available, but other brands, too, have brought excellent devices to market. Most non-prescription hearing aids will cost less than $1,000, and this website is devoted to all 41 million Americans looking for affordable hearing aids.
Medical evaluations often aren’t needed for age-related hearing loss
Now, non-prescription or over-the-counter hearing aids are different from prescription hearing aids the same way reading glasses differ from prescription glasses. One type needs a medical examination, but for most people with age-related hearing loss, a more generic approach will suffice.
This has been underlined by a big study for the National Academies Press. In the 2016 study, which has spurred more recent legislation changes, the editors note how strict regulations around prescription hearing aids are keeping cheaper alternatives away from those with mild and moderate hearing loss.
A lot of those 41 million people, the study finds, would benefit from non-prescription hearing aids, which have been categorized as PSAPs, wearable hearing devices, and OTC hearing aids. Whatever the name, these non-prescription hearing aids afford a more generic, affordable solution to age-related hearing loss. Not everyone with hearing loss needs an audiologist to program their device.
You can use your HSA and FSA accounts for non-prescription hearing aids
That means millions of Americans could be buying hearing aids under $1,000 instead of the audiologist-approved versions that will cost them $2,500 of more. But buying a quality hearing aid will still cost a few hundred dollars. Luckily, most companies offering OTC hearing aids also help you pay for your hearing aids with your HSA or FSA account. That means if you’ve been saving up money in these accounts, you can use the money to buy hearing aids, saving you even more money. Often, contacting a company directly will get you the best results. Companies that offer HSA and FSA support include Otofonix, Lexie, and MDHearing.
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