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Hearables for All

Image © 2017 Eversound

Hearables For All: This Initiative Brings New Personal Amplifiers to Older Ears

Hearables are about to hit retirement homes, thanks to an ambitious new initiative its creators call Hearables for All.

Spearheaded by the Front Porch Center for Innovation and Wellbeing, the 12-month-program will let hearing-impaired elders try out the latest Internet and smartphone-enabled personal sound amplification products (PSAPs).

The initiative recently scored part of a $500,000 grant from the Consumer Technology Association Foundation (CTA) earlier this month.

“We are at an exciting moment in technological innovation related to hearables,” says CTA executive director Stephen Ewell. “I expect this project will show that new tools to help people hear can make a major difference in the quality of life for older adults.”

Doppler Labs’ Here One and Nuheara’s IQbuds are among the first hearables seniors will test, according to Front Porch director Davis Park. Far more affordable than typical hearing aids, hearables are “”already disrupting the traditional hearing device market.”

The impact potential of these new solutions “will be enormous for well being and independence of older adults,” he said.

The sizeable CTA grant, he added, is critical for accelerating widespread hearable adoption among seniors,.

Hearing loss and depression

Why the rush?

Studies suggests that hearing loss isn’t just an inconvenient part of old age, but a problem, if untreated, that can lead to depression, anxiety and social isolation among seniors.

In fact, according to a National Council on the Aging (NCOA) study, adults aged 50 and older with untreated hearing loss were more likely to report symptoms of depression, anxiety and social isolation than their hearing aid wearing counterparts. The study surveyed 2,300 hearing-impaired adults aged 50 and older.

“This study debunks the myth that hearing loss in older persons is a harmless condition,” said the NCOA’s president James Firman, EdD. 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.

In addition to depression and social isolation, hearing-impaired older adults also appear to be more likely to suffer some level of cognitive decline, according to this study in the Journal of American Medicine back in 2013.

Some nine million Americans over the age of 65 and 10 million Americans age 45 to 64 suffer from hearing loss, according to the NCOA. But about three out of five older Americans with hearing loss and six out of seven middle-aged Americans with hearing loss do not use hearing aids due to their high cost, a fear of stigmatization and a reluctance to “look old,” he said.

To put it another way, NCOA statistics say two-thirds of adults over 70 suffer from hearing loss needs treatment, but only 15 to 30 percent of those elders wear them.

Further, hearing aids aren’t covered by Medicare and are available only by prescription. A new measure recently passed by Congress, though, now allows PSAPs and other Internet connected hearing helpers to be sold over the counter.

Isolated no more

“The health and wellness impact of hearing loss can’t be overstated,” said FPCIW president Kari Olson.

“As we age, the inability to hear conversations and participate in discussions progressively takes us down a path of self-isolation,” said said. That’s especially true in group settings where listeners must track multiple speakers at once. The mounting evidence of deteriorating health conditions due to social disengagement is impossible to ignore,” Olson said.

Hearables, she said, aren’t the only hearing-enhancement tools the Hearables for All initiative is trying out with seniors. In August, the program began to deploy Eversound, a group listening system that utilizes multiple headsets with individual volume controls.

Front Porch includes 10 full-service retirement communities in California and two adult living communities in Louisiana and Florida, respectively. The non-profit also serves 25 affordable housing communities via its CARING Housing Ministries division.

For HearingTracker, I’m Gina Smith.

Additional Reading:

Study: Hearing Loss and Cognitive Decline in Older Adults uploaded by Gina Smith on Scribd

Study: Hearing Impairment Associated With Depression in US Adults uploaded by Gina Smith on Scribd

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