In recognition of Better Hearing Month, Independent Audiology in Wellington is joining with the Better Hearing Institute (BHI) in raising awareness of the value of hearing health in the workplace and is urging local employers to make hearing health a key element of their workplace wellness programs.
A growing body of research links hearing loss to several costly chronic diseases; a three-fold risk of falling; increased absenteeism; higher risk of dementia; and reduced productivity in the workplace. But the vast majority of people with hearing loss can benefit from hearing aids. And studies show that when people with even mild hearing loss use hearing aids, they improve their job performance, increase their earning potential, enhance their communication skills, improve their professional and interpersonal relationships, stave off depression, and better their quality of life.
Independent Audiology also is encouraging people of all ages to take an online hearing check at www.hearingcheck.org, where individuals can quickly and confidentially assess if they need a comprehensive hearing check by a hearing professional. Independent Audiology owner Dr. Kelly Halligan urges Larimer County area employers to share this information with their employees.
“Never before has hearing health been so important for both the employee and the employer,” says Halligan, a hearing health professional in Fort Collins and Wellington. “People are staying in the workforce longer, and we are seeing hearing loss at younger ages. But we know that when employees help their workers identify and appropriately address a hearing loss, it’s a win-win situation for everyone.”
According to BHI, more than 34 million Americans suffer from hearing loss and roughly 60 percent of them are in the workforce. What’s more, studies show that people with heart disease, diabetes, chronic kidney disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and depression may all have an increased risk of hearing loss—making it all the more urgent for employers to include hearing health as part of their wellness programs and to encourage hearing screenings as part of preventive medical care. Today, about 53 percent of U.S. employers use wellness programs to reduce their health-care costs.
Studies show that employees with hearing loss take more sick-days than their colleagues with normal hearing—likely the result of the extra energy expended on overcoming their hearing problem. In fact, a study in the International Journal of Audiology found that employees with hearing loss are as much as five times more likely than their co-workers with normal hearing to experience stress so severe that they must take sick-days. One reason may be that only four in ten people with moderate-to-severe hearing loss use hearing aids. Even fewer people with mild hearing loss use them—just one in ten.
“By including hearing health in their wellness programs, employers also encourage workers to treat hearing loss rather than hide it,” says Sergei Kochkin, PhD, BHI’s Executive Director. “Not only does this help the worker, but it creates a working environment where the loss of hearing does not have to interfere with job performance, productivity, safety, or morale.”
In a large national study, BHI found that people with untreated hearing loss lose as much as $30,000 in income annually, depending on their degree of hearing loss; that the aggregate yearly loss in income due to underemployment for people with untreated hearing loss is an estimated $176 billion; and that the fiscal cost to society in unrealized federal taxes is an estimated $26 billion. Use of hearing aids was shown to reduce the risk of income loss by 90 to 100 percent for those with milder hearing loss, and from 65 to 77 percent for those with severe to moderate hearing loss.
Kochkin also points out that a recent study, funded by the National Institutes of Health and published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, found that hearing loss is linked to a three-fold risk of falling among working-aged people (40 to 69) with mild hearing loss. In the United States, the cost of falls and the resulting injuries generate billions in health care costs each year.
Numerous studies have linked untreated hearing loss to a wide range of physical and emotional conditions, including impaired memory and ability to learn new tasks, reduced alertness, increased risk of personal safety, irritability, negativism, anger, fatigue, tension, stress, depression, and diminished psychological and overall health. But the vast majority of people with hearing loss can benefit from hearing aids. In fact, three out of four hearing aid users report improvements in their quality of life due to wearing hearing aids.
Advances in digital technology have dramatically improved hearing aids in recent years, making them smaller with better sound quality. Designs are modern, sleek, and discreet. Clarity, greater directionality, better speech audibility in a variety of environments, better cell phone compatibility, less whistling and feedback then hearing aids of the past, and greater ruggedness for active lifestyles are common features.
To obtain a copy of “Assisting Employees with Hearing Loss,” visit www.betterhearing.org/aural_education_and_counseling/articles_tip_sheets_and_guides/assisting_employees.cfm.