Up until very recently, hearing aids have only been available to people diagnosed with a hearing loss by an audiologist. However, hearing aids are now starting to be offered to consumers in new ways that may be described as ‘direct to consumer’ or ‘over the counter’. These new ways of offering hearing aids mean that a person does not necessarily need to see an audiologist in person for a hearing assessment or have received a clinical diagnosis of hearing loss to access hearing aids..
Hearing aid manufacturers are required to describe the kind of person that their devices are suitable for. Up until recently, they have described that their hearing aids are suitable for someone that has been diagnosed as having a hearing loss by a healthcare professional (e.g. an audiologist). However, these new ways of offering hearing aids mean that people are now starting to be able to access hearing aids without having a clinical diagnosis. Therefore, manufacturers have started to describe those who are suitable as people with ‘perceived hearing loss’, but we don’t yet have a clear definition of what ‘perceived’ hearing loss is.
The aim of the research was to gather information that can help us to define what a ‘perceived’ hearing loss is, to help make sure hearing aids are targeted towards those people who are most likely to benefit.
This research recruited people who think that they have a hearing loss or hearing problems, but who haven’t yet been diagnosed as having a hearing loss by a healthcare professional. These adults were recruited from across Australia and across a wide range of ages. A small group visited the National Acoustic Laboratories in Sydney where they received hearing aids and provided information on their experience of using them.
The key findings from the research are that:
– Listening in noisy situations is the most commonly-reported symptom that people report when asked about their hearing problems.
– Most people think that their hearing problems have been caused by exposure to loud noise or are due to getting old.
– Some people do not think their hearing problems affect their daily lives, but there are specific groups of adults that do think that their lives are impacted in negative ways.
– Most adults with hearing problems think that they can do something about those problems, but they also struggle to understand their hearing problems. This confusion may be one of the reasons why they have not chosen to seek help for their problems.
– Adults who tried out hearing aids had a more positive experience than they expected. By using a smartphone app to track their experience of using the hearing aids, we also found that they got more benefit from the hearing aids than they thought or could recognise.
This research shines a light on how important it is to understand how people think about their ‘perceived’ hearing problems. This information could be used to help them understand their problems better, and to make it easier to decide whether devices like hearing aids could help them. The research also suggests that people with mild hearing problems can benefit from hearing aids, but may struggle to actually recognise how and when the hearing aids are really helping them to listen. Technology such as smartphone apps could be an important way to help people see these benefits and stay motivated to use devices to help them listen in everyday life.
This research is ongoing at NAL and is open to collaboration, reach out to us to find out more.