“What do you do for a living?”
“I’m an audiologist.”
If you are an audiologist, chances are you have had a version of this conversation with someone.
As I enter my 19th year of audiology practice, and I reflect on the number of times that I have had to explain my field of work to someone that I just met, my mind is filled with questions. We live in changing times in the field of audiology, in which over-the-counter hearing aids have been approved by the FDA, and patient performance has significantly improved thanks to the advances of hearing aid and hearing implant technology. As clinicians, we are able to give our patients with varying degrees of hearing loss more treatment options than ever. At the same time, multiple recent studies have shown deep connections between hearing loss and other health problems, such as dementia, depression, and a heightened fall risk.
Thus, the question begs to be asked: In 2022, why are there so many people who don’t know what an audiologist is?
Why raising public awareness about audiology matters
In my quest to answer this question, I happened upon an original study published in 2022 by the Hearing Health Collaborative in Otology & Neurology. This study, entitled “Awareness, Perceptions, and Literacy Surrounding Hearing Loss and Hearing Rehabilitation Among the Adult Population in the United States”, took a deep dive into our adult population’s mindset about hearing and hearing loss.
This study, which included 1,250 surveyed adults between the ages of 50 and 80, revealed that for this group, addressing hearing loss was third to last on a list of 11 health conditions that people felt needed to be prioritized. This study also revealed that only 9 percent of survey respondents could identify what constituted “normal hearing”, while 93 percent could accurately identify what is considered “normal vision”. The survey respondents overwhelmingly stated that they would be more likely in the next 12 months of their lives to take their pet to a veterinarian (59%) than to get their hearing tested (27%). Another interesting takeaway from this study is that only 15 percent of primary care physicians regularly screen their patients for hearing loss during regular check-ups.
This study comes at a time when, although treatment options for hearing loss have increased and become more advanced, adoption of those treatments amongst patients remains low. Current estimates are that only about 20 percent of the adult population with hearing loss seek treatment for their condition in the form of hearing aids or implantable devices.
What’s next for audiology?
Audiology has come far in the last few decades, but we still have work to do. What are some action items that we can perform to promote the services we provide as audiologists and encourage others to move hearing health to the top of their priority list?
Encourage loved ones to get their hearing checked
We can start our efforts at home. Often, we joke with our significant others and family members about selective hearing, but the reality is that I don’t know when my own mother last had her hearing tested. Audiologists are well-versed in the research that earlier is better when it comes to seeking treatment for hearing loss. We can speak up and encourage regular hearing tests amongst our own friends and family and teach them why identifying hearing loss early makes a difference. We can promote audiometric screenings and widen the reach of our profession by starting with those in our inner circle.
More research is needed
We need to discover why the adoption rate of hearing loss treatment is so low. The study I mentioned above leads to more questions, such as:
- What piece are audiologists missing in educating our patients?
- How can we do better?
- This particular survey was completed in people aged 50-80. What about younger adults?
- How can audiologists work to reach the population in their younger years to start promoting hearing health sooner?
- How prevalent is gender, cultural, and age bias toward adopting treatment?
- How can we work to improve the barriers to treatment, such as reimbursement and that low referral rate from primary physicians?
For clinicians, questions lead to more questions, and the need for continued research in this important area cannot be minimized.
A call to action
Hearing loss is invisible. No one can see it. It can cause poor quality of life, social isolation, and difficulty in relationships. Audiologists can normalize regular hearing screenings and bring hearing health from the back burner to the front of people’s minds. Our gift to give as audiologists is to bring that human-to-human connection that’s driven by good conversation back to those who have lost it due to their hearing loss. One by one we can work to make sure that the next time someone asks what you do for work, and you tell them you’re an audiologist, you get a nod and a knowing smile.
March 3rd is World Hearing Day
As I googled hearing loss awareness and explored the internet for information to add to this article, I found that March 3rd is World Hearing Day as designated by the World Health Organization (WHO). Audiologists can take this moment to celebrate what we do and promote to our patients the importance of making hearing health a top priority. Perhaps it’s a good opportunity to invite new and existing patients to your office for an annual hearing screening. World Hearing Day is a global initiative that we can use to our advantage to spread the word about the effects of hearing loss on quality of life and why treatment matters.
About the author
Courtney Smith, M.A., CCC/A, is the Clinical Trainer for Oticon Medical. She in in her 19th year of practicing audiology. She has practiced in private practice and university hospital settings in Las Vegas, NV. She completed her training at the University of Iowa in 2003.
 M.L. Carlson, et al, Awareness, Perceptions, and Literacy Surrounding Hearing Loss and Hearing Rehabilitation among the Adult Population in the United States, Otology & Neurology, Vol. 43, No. xx, 2022