Can we listen to our fellow Americans — if we cannot hear?

By Tim Schnell, CEO of Lucid Hearing & Lucid Audio

Coming out of a very historic election, we learned that our nation is more diverse and divided than we may have realized — and that there’s a large percentage of Americans who feel left behind. It was clear that many people didn’t feel heard — both literally and figuratively.

Almost 50 million Americans live with hearing loss — that’s more than 1 in 6 people — and that number is expected to double by 2030. While the majority suffer from age-related hearing loss, some of that is occupational like our men and women in service or lifestyle such as hunting and music. Yet only about 15 percent of those with hearing loss use assistive hearing technology.

That leaves more 42 million citizens left behind because they cannot afford hearing aids. And that is a serious problem at home, at the workplace, and for our economy. Why?

As one of the five senses, the ability to hear allows us to make sense of our world. It’s one of the primary tools we use to communicate with others, sense danger, experience calmness, interpret context and respond to cues. So when our hearing diminishes, so too does our ability to navigate the world.

At home, the sounds you once relied on for your daily routine — like an alarm clock, oven timer or doorbell — suddenly become mute. At work, it gets harder to make out words over the phone or in a meeting, especially if multiple people are talking at once.

But aside from our career and daily routine, perhaps most concerning is the detrimental effect untreated hearing loss can have on our mental health. As Helen Keller once stated, “Blindness separates people from things. Deafness separates people from people.”

Background noises combined with the challenge of disentangling different make once effortless small talk an exhausting feat. Gatherings of family and friends sound even more like an unorganized cacophony of noises. In restaurants, the overwhelming clamor of dishes and utensils muffle words of even the person right next to you.

Unsurprisingly, this detachment from conversation can take a serious toll on our relationships and mental health. In recent years, reports released by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) and the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) have linked untreated hearing loss to depression and a decline in memory and concentration. Some studies have even associated hearing loss with dementia.

We have to be able to hear each other to move forward — to build, unite and grow stronger as a country. Otherwise, how can we really listen and learn from one another? How can we expect to get back to work and fortify our families and companies if we’re being held back by this very real threat to our livelihood?

It’s debilitating. I should know.

My hearing may have been damaged at an early age. As an adult, at first I denied it. Then I tried to hide it. Finally, I set my pride aside and addressed it, getting my hearing tested and purchasing my first hearing aids at age 35. When I finally got quality assistance, I felt like a part of my life I had lost was returned special delivery. I knew that day, this was the business I wanted to be in. That was more than a decade ago.

So much has happened since and thanks to advancements in technology and manufacturing, hearing assistance is available to many, many more Americans. As a country and as an industry, we must come together to solve this problem and the great news is that a solution is within our grasp.

This week, U.S. Senators Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) introduced the Over-the-Counter Hearing Aid Act of 2017 (bill number S. 670). The bill, also cosponsored by Senator Hassan (D-NH) and Senator Isakson (R-GA), has been referred to the HELP Committee in the Senate and could be considered by the committee in the coming weeks. Representatives Kennedy (D-MA) and Blackburn (R-TN) have also introduced a companion bill in the House of Representatives.

The bipartisan legislation would make certain types of hearing aids available over the counter and remove unnecessary and burdensome requirements that currently create barriers for consumers. Specifically, personal sound amplifiers — or PSAPs — are a growing part of the hearing assistance product spectrum that can help. Whether the Bill is perfect, I don’t know. What I do know is that anything that helps more people access better hearing is progress.

I am on a mission to push hearing forward in our country and I challenge you join in the movement. In the next five years, over 170 million people will be over 50 years old accounting for 54% of the population. These people are like you and me — they have smartphones and active lifestyles. They are busy with kids and grandkids and jobs and hobbies. They run, they hunt, they bird-watch, they work in their woodshop, they have responsibilities and a desire to contribute. Let’s empower them to be a part of the conversation.

At my companies, Lucid Hearing and Lucid Audio, we’re doing our part by innovating products for all ages and needs: from infants to seniors, from office settings to active lifestyles, preventative and protective technologies, from light hearing degradation to severe hearing loss — and everything in between.

Whether you are an industry leader, an in-the-field audiologist, a buyer, policy-maker, or you know someone that needs a little help, now is the time to help people who cannot hear and may not be heard. Today is the day to hear better — and to do more as a nation.

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —

Tim Schnell is the founder and CEO of Lucid Hearing and Lucid Audio, which have helped over 100,000 people hear better via products for every age and every stage of hearing ability, from protective HearMuffs for infants and children, to AMPED audio devices for grandkids and grandparents, to our super affordable personal sound amplifiers (PSAPs) to advanced Powered by Lucid hearing aids. www.lucidaudio.com and www.lucidahearing.com