Contributed by Debbie Clason, staff writer, Healthy Hearing
Here’s a fact of nature — the longer you live, the more likely you are to develop hearing loss. Statistics from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) estimate 48 million Americans have some form of hearing loss. Unfortunately, only 20 percent of them will seek treatment, even though it’s likely they would benefit from wearing hearing devices.
Why? Some don’t want to wear hearing aids and others don’t realize their hearing has deteriorated, but many don’t have access to good hearing healthcare or the financial resources to purchase hearing devices.
Untreated hearing loss has been linked to a variety of other health problems, including depression, stress and dementia and the World Health Organization has identified hearing loss as one of the world’s major health problems. How can you help? We’ve identified five ways you can give the gift of hearing — to those you love as well as to those you may never meet.
1. Advocate for hearing health
Shine a light on hearing health by educating others about the issue.
- Talk about it. Share your hearing health journey or that of a loved one, especially as it relates to success with wearing hearing devices. The more people hear positive outcomes, the more likely they will seek treatment for their own hearing loss.
- Volunteer. Organize a community walk for hearing health or an event to collect used hearing devices.
- Start a petition. If your state doesn’t already mandate insurance coverage for hearing health, petition your elected government officials. (Psst — it’s an election year!)
- Use social media to talk about hearing health. Recruit volunteers for your walk, donations for hearing devices or signatures for your petition. Post positive stories about your hearing aids and the way they’ve enhanced your life.
- Talk to your legislators. If we want hearing health to be as important as other health issues, we need to lead the charge. Find out who represents you in The United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate and ask them to champion the cause.
2. Contribute to hearing health foundations
As you consider which organizations to support financially this year, don’t forget those which support hearing health. In addition to providing hearing devices like hearing aids and cochlear implants, your donation can help fund research projects, provide education and help train service animals for those who are deaf or have hearing loss.
If you like to keep your money local, you may be able to contribute to one of these efforts:
- Lions Club International. Check with your local Lions Club to see if they participate in the organization’s Hearing Preservation, Awareness and Action Program.
- United Way. Even if there aren’t any hearing awareness organizations which partner with your local United Way, staff may be aware of community resources which help those who are deaf or hard of hearing.
- Hearing healthcare providers. Many local hearing clinics see the need for hearing health support in the community and fill the void by administering their own hearing assistance programs and foundations.
- Community Foundations. Ask your community foundation administrator if any of their funds support hearing health. If so, ask for contact information so you can follow up and decide if you want to make a donation.
Nationally, there are many foundations and charities you can support, including:
Whether you decide to give locally or nationally, be sure to do your research. Visit the agency’s website and, if possible, ask questions about how your money or in-kind donation will be used.
3. Donate used hearing aids
If you wear hearing aids and are ready to upgrade your existing devices, consider donating your old hearing aids to an organization which will refurbish and fit them to someone who couldn’t otherwise afford them.
Locally, check with your Lions Clubs. In addition to their hearing preservation program, some clubs also administer a hearing aid recycling program (HARP). Also, check local hearing clinics. Some refurbish used hearing aids for their patients who can’t afford the cost on their own.
If you can’t find an organization in your community, you can send used hearing aids to Hearing Charities of America. They collect used hearing aids regardless of age or condition and revamp them for qualified applicants.
4. Help someone with hearing loss find resources
One of the best ways you can give the gift of hearing is by helping someone get treatment for their hearing loss. Many may not know that financial help is available and delay treatment because they just don’t think they can afford it.
The most important step in this process is to get their hearing evaluated by a hearing healthcare professional. (To find a clinic in your community, visit Healthy Hearing’s online directory.) Once a diagnosis has been made and a treatment recommended, then you can begin looking for the appropriate financial resources to fund the solution. Look for hearing centers which offer free hearing evaluations on site or at community events, especially during Better Hearing Month in May or National Audiology Awareness Month in October.
After the evaluation, ask the hearing health professional if their clinic offers payment plans or other financial resources for patients who qualify. If not, check with the foundations, charities and organizations we’ve mentioned above. And, if the person you’re helping is a student or still employed, they may qualify for free or reduced-cost hearing devices from the vocational rehabilitation program in your state.
5. Be a hearing health role model for your family
Kids are great imitators, so what better way to get them to practice good hearing health than by modeling it yourself.
- Wear hearing protection. Carry foam earplugs with you whenever you participate in noisy activities, such as a sporting event, concert or shooting range, so you can wear a pair and share the rest. Keep foam earplugs near outdoor equipment and recreational vehicles, such as snowmobiles, leaf blowers and lawn mowers, so you and the rest of your family have them on hand before starting any engines.
- Have your hearing tested. Making appointments for your hearing health annually, just as you do for your eyes and general health, show your family that your sense of hearing is just as important as the health of the rest of your body. And that just might be the best gift of all.