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There has been much cynicism regarding the value of hearing aids. However, a study published in JAMA confirmed what audiologists have recognized for decades: Hearing aids do indeed provide substantial benefit and reduce communication problems. The National Council on Aging study on the impact of untreated hearing loss in over 2000 hearing-impaired adults and their significant others indicated that individuals with untreated hearing loss were more likely to report depression, anxiety, and paranoia, and less likely to participate in organized social activities compared to those who wear hearing aids. Other studies have indicated that hearing aid use is associated with significant improvements in the social, psychological, emotional, and physical aspects of the lives of hearing-impaired persons with all degrees of hearing loss.

Despite these findings and data indicating significant improvements in satisfaction related to advanced technological features, the percentage of hearing-impaired individuals who own hearing aids has increased only slightly since 1984 and remains below 25%. Many individuals continue to reject hearing aid use for a combination of reasons, including denial of need, stigma, cost, and lack of adequate benefit in the more difficult, noisy listening environments in which help is most needed. In addition, patients are not likely to attempt to resolve problems they are not highly motivated to address without the expressed recommendation of their physician, yet less than 15% of adults receive hearing screenings from their medical doctor.

Kochkin S. MarkeTrak VIII: twenty-five year trends in the hearing health market. Hear Rev. 2009;16(10):20. (A large survey of demographics and satisfaction among hearing aid users.)
National Council on Aging. The consequences of untreated hearing loss in older persons. ORL Head Neck Nurs. 2000;18(1):12  [PubMed: 11147549] . (Untreated hearing-impaired patients showed a wide range of significant hearing and emotional problems relative to those receiving amplification.)

Types of Hearing Loss

Decades ago, it was believed that the use of hearing aids was limited to individuals with conductive hearing impairment and would not be helpful for individuals with a sensorineural hearing loss. Patients were informed that hearing aids could make sounds louder, but would not make them clearer. Currently, technologic improvements and improved fitting strategies allow for the successful fitting of hearing aids in most individuals with a sensorineural hearing impairment.

Degree of Hearing Loss

Hearing loss is too complex to be characterized by a single measure. Indeed, an audiogram provides information only about one aspect of hearing: threshold sensitivity. The reality is that individuals rarely listen at their hearing threshold. Instead, speech occurs at suprathreshold levels, and the intensity levels that an impaired cochlea is exposed to are considerably higher than normal because of amplification. For some patients, stimulation at high intensity levels enhances auditory function, but for others, it may not. Thus, the prognostic value of amplification and determination of candidacy for hearing aids on the basis of the ...

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