I recently did an interview with a national news organization, about the stigma that persists around hearing aid technology. It’s this stigma that continues to be a major barrier around hearing aid adoption. The conversation was informative, and the reporter was surprised to hear that, on average, people wait seven years between noticing they have hearing loss and actually getting a hearing aid. However, when the story came out, I was a bit disappointed.
While the reporter got nothing factually wrong, the video this national news outlet used was troubling. It was, easily, from 20 years ago. The big, bulky devices they showed looked like they came out of a museum. These were not the hearing aids of today. I’ve been in the hearing healthcare industry for nearly three decades, and I have seen the evolution of hearing technology. I can confidently say that the devices on the market today are not your grandfather’s hearing aids. They are packed with more technology than physics should allow since these devices, and their sleek design, are nearly invisible. They provide super-human power people can use to not only help them hear the world around them, but technology that can detect falls, track their physical and cognitive activity, translate languages and be their virtual assistant.
While my initial reaction was to call the reporter and ask why they haven’t updated their video since the early ‘80s, I realized this was not a problem with one news organization. This was bigger.
To understand why this issue is so ingrained in American culture and why it’s having a lasting impact, here’s a history lesson. Back in 1983, the White House revealed that President Ronald Reagan was fit with a Starkey hearing aid. By talking about his own hearing loss, President Reagan was starting a long-overdue dialogue about hearing health in this country. His “admission” that he had hearing loss, something perceived as an “old person’s disease,” helped chip away at the stigma around these devices.
Today, it’s people like Daymond John who are helping change the conversation around hearing aids. Daymond wears bright red hearing aids, as opposed to a flesh-tone or out-of-sight device, specifically so people will ask about them. He loves talking about his hearing loss because he hopes that by sharing his story, someone else will feel empowered to get help.
This stigma around hearing aids is so harmful because it remains one of the main reasons people delay getting help for their hearing loss. When untreated, hearing loss is linked to overall health issues like cognitive decline, cardiovascular issues, depression, loneliness and even an increased risk of dementia, putting off addressing hearing loss is a serious public health issue for our nation.
We need the media to help reduce this stigma. We trust them to inform and educate the public. I have done my homework to learn about file footage and how and why it is used, so I certainly don’t blame this reporter for this one situation. I am using this example to implore media outlets everywhere to update your hearing aid file video. Are you still using file footage of flip phones when talking about the new iPhone 13? Every time hearing aid footage from 30 years ago is used, you are reinforcing the stigma that keeps millions of Americans from addressing their hearing loss. This is not a big ask. We’ve made it very easy by providing updated hearing aid file video, free of any branding or labels and free to use, to any news outlet that wants to accurately portray hearing technology today. You can find and download the video at ListenCarefully.org.
We all have a role to play in reducing the stigma around hearing aids, and I hope the media will do its part. We must empower the millions of Americans who are delaying addressing their hearing loss to finally get the help they need.