Debunking the Stigma of Age

Whenever I give talks, there’s one Power-Point slide I use that surprises people. That’s because it directly contradicts the notion that hearing loss is something for the elderly.

As this graph shows, hearing loss is for all of us, male or female, at any age.


The majority of people first realize they have hearing loss between the ages of 20 and 59. That’s especially true for men: 64 percent. And it’s close to true for women: 50 percent. This survey was based on self-report, so we don’t know if they “developed” hearing loss at a certain age. More accurately, they first noticed it at a certain age. People are notoriously slow to recognize hearing loss. A study using audiologic metrics would probably find even higher numbers.

So, 64 percent of men with hearing loss first knew they had it between the ages of 20 and 59, and 50 percent of women did. Add those whose hearing loss was detected before the age of 20, and you’ll find that that 79 percent of men had hearing loss by age 60, as did 70 percent of women.

So why do we associate hearing loss with aging? Why is this stigma so powerful?

The elderly do develop hearing loss: But new hearing loss over the age of 60 constitutes a much smaller percentage of the total than those who knew they had a hearing problem when they were younger.  Where does this age=hearing loss idea come from?

Hearing tends to decline with age, so the loss among the elderly is on average more severe than it is in younger people. This prompts people who have had untreated hearing loss for decades to finally get hearing aids.Slide13

Those we notice wearing hearing aids are usually old. This 2012 graph shows that approximately 15 percent those over 80 who need hearing aids have them. It’s not a large number but it’s a whole lot larger than those wearing hearing aids who are younger than 70.

A huge majority of elderly people have hearing loss, and among them a fair number wear hearing aids. This leads to a natural association of hearing loss with aging. Look at the top graph again. The majority of those with hearing loss developed it before they turned 60.

Hearing loss isn’t just for the elderly. So let’s dispense with that stigma of age and take care of our hearing. Get hearing aids!




21 thoughts on “Debunking the Stigma of Age

  1. I’ve worn HAs since I was 16, and was proud to illustrate that Hearing Loss is not just for the elderly. Now it’s 50 years later, and I’ve become the stereotype, LOL. Still, I hope to inspire others my age to get past the stigma.


  2. I listen to people tell me about their senior parents who turn the volume of the TV way up to hide their hearing loss. These same parents complain people mumble their words and that is why they cannot understand them. It is a sad situation. I do tell them that captioning is on all TV’s over 13″ since 1993 and to try a personal assistive listening device.I do view ads about CapTel the captioned telephone. I think some people will not to admit they are losing their hearing. I have been hard of hearing since 1940. I am so grateful for the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA), Their bimonthly magazine called “Hearing Life” is what hearing loss is all about.


      • Susan and Mary, I’m afraid that was a one-time program. I don’t think Geoff Plant has the funding to do another. But try calling the Hearing Rehabilitation Foundation. The number is on the website. The address given is their old address. They’ve moved. Hearing Rehab seems to be catching on. Depending on where you live there may be a good program near you.


  3. I’m a firm believer in all of this, Katherine. Interesting column. Until access, affordability, and dependability are brought into the reasonable realm, there will always be a big delay, I fear. . . .


    • Interestingly, cost is not the major factor. In the UK where hearing aids are free or very inexpensive, the numbers are as low as they are hear. The problem really is stigma. And, as you say, the way to defeat stigma that is for those of us who have hearing loss to be open about it.


  4. I think you over assume the denial and stigma. The brain automaticallly uses other parts of brain to gather information on speach. So people begin to lip read without even being aware of it. In fact, the person actually hears it. Of course the brain is doing a sophisticated form of guessing and it’s often wrong. But the person still thinks they heard. We need to be careful of saying people are in denial and fear stigma.


    • I’ve often said that it’s easy to miss early hearing loss. The changes are very gradual for most. But statistics show that only one in seven (possibly 1 in 6 now) who could benefit from hearing aids gets them. So there’s something more standing in the way. The people in this study all knew they had hearing loss — the study relied on self-report for the numbers.


  5. We cannot repeat it enough! Just ask my step daughter who with her father started not hearing when they were young. Thank you!


  6. Reading lips or Speech reading does help but only 30% of what is being presented is understood. If you have a hearing loss a cochlear implant and/or hearing aids along with assistive listening devices and captioning will help one who is losing their hearing remain in the hearing world with less stress and fatigue.


  7. Katherine, your comments about the stigma are right on! I am 74, deaf on one ear since birth. When I was in the work force I wore my hair long to hide my bi-cross HA, because I was afraid to lose my job if anyone knew that I had one deaf ear. The ADA has changed that somewhat, but it is often still not acceptable to have hearing loss on the job. That attitude gets internalized. It is also not infrequently applied even in medical settings. Only 4 weeks ago, during an education session at a local hospital, my husband (2 HAs) asked the nurse who chaired the session to please use a microphone as he couldn’t understand her (sitting in the second row). Her response? “Turn up your hearing aid, that will take care of the problem.”


    • That comment from the nurse chairing the session — a medical professional! — makes my blood boil!
      It’s going to take a long time to educate the community, including the medical community, but the more we all talk about our hearing loss — especially younger people, the sooner we will defeat this stigma.


    • I am so sorry that this ignorant nurse who chaired this session would think that turning up the hearing aid would help your husband hear. She made fun of your husband’s disability in public and I would report this nurse to whomever is in charge at this hospital. Another claim by the ignorant is the speaker speaks out “Can everyone hear me.” Once they hear “yes” the speaker proceeds without a microphone. This is the same as making fun of a person who is physically impaired because they walk too slowly. .


  8. Many hearing people think that hearing aids give perfect hearing and that includes listening to a speaker in an auditorium without accommodations. Hearing aids are wonderful when talking to a person in a noisy restaurant or one on one at a convention hall or other venue. Hearing aids only cover the distance of 6′ between you and the other person speaking. The next time a person tells you to “Turn up your hearing aids.” you must let someone who arranged the meeting about this. Ask them what can I do if they refuse to use the microphone. Most people of importance at a venue are very aware of the repercussions when shaming a person with a disability at a public meeting.


  9. Hello Katherine, I posted this page on my Facebook page today,,,,and then I wondered if I had done it the wrong way without getting your permission?? My husband is considered deaf in left ear, and less than 40% in right ear. We have been to a physician about a cochlear implant. He has been approved for it. I thought I understood that he might be able to have a little help with 2 digital hearing aids, so had the audiologist make ear molds and the strongest pair. He is wearing them today, but is very upset that he can’t hear better…..and he was told speech would not be improved even with cochlear implant and it also would take time and effort on his part. He has been wearing aids for 46+ years. Reta Johnson 1 [712]301-9831.


    • I’m not sure why I didn’t see this earlier. I’m so sorry for your husband. He might try a concentrated effort at ayditort rehab. But it also might be tome for a cochlear implant. Auditory rehab is important after a cochlear implant too.


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