Depression and Hearing Loss

young-depressed-man-cartoonThe National Council on the Aging has published a study emphasizing the need for treating hearing loss, no matter how “minor”. Dr. James Firman, the President and CEO of the National Council on Aging reports that untreated hearing loss can lead to serious consequences.

According to Dr. Firman, “The survey of 2,300 hearing impaired adults age 50 and older found that those with untreated hearing loss were more likely to report depression, anxiety, and paranoia and were less likely to participate in organized social activities, compared to those who wear hearing aids.”

Dr. Firman further states, “This study debunks the myth that untreated hearing loss in older persons is a harmless condition.” This is not new information to audiologists who regularly see patients with untreated hearing loss. Many first time hearing aid users report an increase in socialization and family interactions. Being able to be part of a conversation is refreshing and relaxing. Family members report a renewed interest in outside activities once their loved one is fit with hearing aids.

There are over 38 million Americans with hearing loss. Hearing loss is just not for older Americans. About 7% of American teens have permanent hearing loss due to noise exposure. Fortunately, many teens are “turning the volume down” on their personal listening devices. But, for some the damage is already done.

Also, fortunately, Baby Boomers are recognizing the need for hearing tests and the necessity for hearing aids. Physicians are requesting patients have a baseline hearing test at age fifty. Many Baby Boomers are finding the need for understanding conversations in meetings and social situations. They are finding that with a high frequency hearing loss they are having trouble understanding speech in a noisy situation. They often report they are withdrawing socially because it is too difficult to follow the conversations.

Depression is real. Hearing loss is real. See an audiologist and have a hearing test. If you need hearing aids, find a way to purchase them. Do not let a treatable problem rule your life.

Written and Submitted by Loleata Wigall, M.S. CCC-A, FAAA

President of Atlantic Audiology, Inc.

781-246-0305

lwigall@gmail.com

 

 

 

Marketing Predators: The EAR-ie Truth

I wish I had a nickel for every time a patient came to my office with a mailer they received promising a vacation, a kitchen appliance, or even a Thanksgiving turkey as a gift for trying a hearing aid. Mailers like these are nothing new. Such inducements have become common practice in condo time shares and car dealerships, but they have no place in health care.

 

These mailers are sent by hearing aid dispensers or audiologists who purchase a list of specific demographic targets in order to lure prospective patients to their offices with promises of gifts and discounts.  These practices expect that, in order to receive their “gifts”, the patients will book an appointment and splurge for hearing aids. The mailers will often arrive in an 8 x 10” envelope marked “urgent” with the appearance of an authorized document, with emboldened warnings such as “time sensitive information” and “for recipient only.” Others state that the recipient has been “selected to be part of a special test market.” These mailers are often outsourced and arrive from a third party marketing company to present the appearance that it is not the practice’s own marketing. Is it legal, yes. Is it ethical, who knows. Is it tasteful, definitely NO!

While there is nothing wrong with advertising a clinic – after all, how else will people be made aware of the practice – I have a particular distaste for letters and publicity designed to mislead people. What is particularly troubling is that most of those who are targeted for these mailers are over the age of 65. A December 2012 article published on NPR’s website entitled Why It’s Easier To Scam The Elderly reported findings from psychologist Shelley Taylor at UCLA. Her study suggested that older adults have decreased activity in the area of the brain that detects risk and danger, making them more susceptible to respond to unsavory types of marketing. The article also reports a finding from AARP that the average age of fraud victims is 69, and states that this age bracket is “most inclined to believe those too-good-to-be true promises.” A more recent article, entitled Psychological Vulnerable Older Adults Are More Susceptible to Fraud,  published by Science Daily in April 2013, suggests that psychologically vulnerable individuals, characterized by depression and ”low level of social needs fulfillment”, were most likely to become victims of fraud. Because hearing loss is so pronounced in this age demographic, and because untreated hearing loss leads to social isolation and depression, the inevitable obvious conclusion is that the target audience for the hearing aid gimmicks are those who are most psychologically vulnerable.

To our patients who are disgusted by these mailers, I want to say “Thank You” for reading between the lines. To our colleagues who remain committed to avoid this path, it’s wonderful to see so many taking the high road to preserve the caliber of our profession. To our professional organizations that have not yet sanctioned these tactics for being unethical, hopefully soon you will reach the same conclusion that I have and re-evaluate your ethics standards and guidelines.

Most importantly, to recipients of these mailings, please remember for yourself and for your loved ones – especially the elderly who may not be able to read the subtle cues or fine print – that there really isn’t a special prize, special discount or special test audience, as advertised. These are simply devices to get people intrigued. The gifts for valentines chocolates aren’t REALLY chocolate, rather a $15 online certificate where you have to spend a certain amount to activate the coupon. If a practice promises $500 off a price of a hearing aid, more often than not, the price is first INCREASED $500 so the spender can feel good about using their coupon. Or, my personal favorite is the 50% off the manufacturer’s suggested retail price, which of course is artificially doubled by the practice so that it can be cut in half. Read carefully, be smart, and advise those you care about to do the same.

When it comes to your hearing, which is an integral component of your overall health, choose a hearing care professional who is patient and caring and provides counseling and aural rehabilitation to facilitate the adjustment to hearing instruments. Hearing aids are a process, not a product, and the relationship you build with your audiologist should be meaningful and built on a foundation of trust. Certainly professionals who use tricks to get you to their door could be initiating a relationship that prays on your vulnerabilities. Don’t let yourself or your loved ones fall victim to marketing predators. Isn’t it better to find honest professionals and buy your own Thanksgiving turkey?

Stefanie Wolf, Au.D.

Doctor of Audiology
Audiology of Nassau County
165 North Village Avenue
Suite #114
Rockville Centre, NY 11570
(516) 764-2094
www.audiologyofnassau.com

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http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2012/12/06/166609270/why-its-easier-to-scam-the-elderly
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/04/130425132441.htm