Over-the-Counter Hearing Aids Available to Seniors in October 2022

Beginning in the middle of October 2022, over-the-counter hearing aids will be available to consumers in the United States, including seniors. Making certain types of hearing aids available to consumers on an over-the-counter basis is expected to encourage more older Americans who need this type of assistance to obtain and use these devices. There are a number of reasons why the availability of over-the-counter hearing aids is considered a positive step forward for older Americans and others who suffer from mild to moderate hearing loss.

Historical Review of When People Seek Help for Hearing Loss

A compelling reason in support of making over-the-counter hearing available to the public stems from how long many people wait to obtain these devices when they need them. Research reveals that an average of 10 years lapses from the time a person detects that he or she is having a hearing issue before that individual seeks assistance from a doctor in getting hearing aids.

A primary reason why this is the case is the cost associated with meeting with an audiologist and obtaining prescription hearing aids. The cost of the examination and the device can reach up to $6,000 and beyond. These exams and devices are not covered by Medicare.

Cost of Over the Counter Hearing Aids

The cost difference between prescription hearing aids and over-the-counter products is significant. The costs associated with over-the-counter hearing aids are expected to be in the neighborhood of $300 to $500. Moreover, no audiologist examination is required before a person can purchase over-the-counter hearing aids.

AARP and the Fight for Over the Counter Hearing Aids

The AARP was instrumental in bringing about the legal change necessary to permit individuals, including older Americans, the ability to obtain far less expensive over-the-counter hearing aids for mild to moderate hearing loss. If an individual suffers from severe hearing loss, that person will still need to obtain prescription hearing aids.

According to the AARP:

Giving people with mild to moderate hearing loss access to affordable hearing aids is an important step to ensure their health and quality of life. For many Americans, the high cost of prescription hearing aids puts them out of reach, increasing their risk of isolation, depression, and other health issues. Today’s rule could help millions.
– Nancy LeaMond AARP’s executive vice president and chief advocacy and engagement officer.
Prevalence of Hearing Loss Among Seniors

Approximately 30 million people in the United States suffer from mild to moderate hearing loss. Hearing loss is particularly prevalent among older Americans. This is the case for a number of reasons. Older Americans suffer from hearing loss because of years of exposure to loud sounds. They suffer from hearing loss because of underlying medical conditions as well. These include diabetes and high blood pressure.

Hearing loss among older Americans breaks down like this:
• One-third of people between the ages of 65 to 74 have some degree of hearing loss
• Almost one-half of people over the age of 75 are afflicted with some level of hearing loss
Hearing Loss as a Risk for Cognitive Decline

Another very significant benefit that might be realized through the availability of over-the-counter hearing aids is found in the prospect of reducing the risk of cognitive decline and dementia for some individuals. Hearing loss is considered a modifiable risk for cognitive decline and dementia. What that means is if a hearing loss issue is dealt with in a timely manner, what otherwise might prove to be a risk for cognitive decline or dementia can be reduced.

Researchers believe that there are three primary reasons why hearing loss can heighten the risk for dementia:

  1. Hearing loss can lead to social isolation. When people with hearing loss begin to feel uncomfortable in social situations, they often cut themselves off from other people. This can result in loneliness, loss of engagement in cognitively stimulating activities, and depression. These three effects of social isolation are known to increase an individual’s risk of cognitive decline or dementia.
  2. Hearing loss overloads the circuitry of a person’s brain. With hearing loss, the brain is constantly having to work harder to process the degraded sounds coming from an individual’s ears. Researchers explain that when this occurs, a person’s brain may have fewer resources to help preserve thinking and memory abilities. In a couple of words, brain overload.
  3. Hearing loss causes physical damage to a person’s brain. Hearing loss leads to the brain being less stimulated with sound information. This lack of sound stimulation appears to be linked with parts of the brain shrinking and atrophying faster as a result.
    Self-Test for Mild to Moderate Hearing Loss
    The American Academy of Audiology has developed a simple self-test to determine if your hearing loss falls into the “mild to moderate” category. The test consists of three questions:
  4. Can you easily hear during one-on-one conversations?
  5. Are there only certain situations where you feel like you would benefit from an OTC hearing aid (as opposed to needing it all the time)?
  6. Does slightly increasing the volume on the phone or TV make a difference?

According to the American Academy of Audiology, if your answer to these questions is “yes,” you may be experiencing mild to moderate hearing loss. Over-the-counter hearing aids may be a good solution for you.

As a final thought in our discussion about over-the-counter hearing aids: Other medical conditions and diseases can be the cause of hearing loss. A person might be afflicted with some sort of medical condition that is the underlying cause of hearing loss. Because this can be the case, it is always wise for a person to at least make an appointment with a physician to discuss the situation. This needs to be done in order to rule out the possibility that some sort of disease or illness is the reason an individual is experiencing hearing loss.