Guest post written by Gora Ganguli, CEO of VitaSound Audio Inc.
Hearing loss is an ever-growing problem that robs people of their quality of life. Because it takes away the capacity to communicate and reduces social interaction between people, studies have shown that untreated loss leads to increasing isolation, depression, and even dementia. Always thought of as an “elderly person’s problem” it is, in fact, occurring at much earlier stages of life than ever before, due primarily to the ever-increasing noise levels of modern day life and the pervasive use of portable audio devices like phones and music players. New studies are showing occurrence of hearing loss in average people in their early 20s, for the first time in recorded history. Studies have also shown that those in the workplace with hearing loss tend to earn less than those with similar qualifications who have normal hearing. As the onset of hearing loss occurs in younger and younger people, the consequences for society will be economic as well as social and mental health related.
A little-known fact about hearing loss is that left untreated, it causes auditory functions of the brain to atrophy. Sounds that are not heard, over a prolonged period, results in the loss of “sound vocabulary” in the brain. That is, the brain eventually forgets the association of that sound with the source. For example, when we don’t hear the high-pitched chirping of birds because we have a hearing loss in the high frequencies, we will eventually forget that sound and its source. If later in life, hearing devices are used, what was once recognizable as birds chirping is no longer recognizable and simply sounds like annoying noise. This is one of the main reasons many people have difficulty in adapting to hearing aids if the loss is untreated for long periods.
Despite these significant impacts on life, less than a quarter of the people that could benefit from hearing devices use them. The reasons are mainly about money and stigma. The prices of hearing aids range from $4,000 to over $7,000 a pair, certainly a significant purchase decision, especially for someone on fixed income. Having been marketed for decades to seniors, because most hearing loss was seen to be age-related, it is natural that hearing aids have become synonymous with aging and, hence, a stigma for people who are experiencing hearing loss at a much younger age due to environmental factors (like too many rock concerts!). This new generation of the hearing impaired are averse to devices that resemble hearing aids.
The effects of the early stages of hearing loss are seen (or heard!) in the increasingly louder volume settings of television, much to the chagrin of other family members; difficulty in conversing over the phone; enjoying music; and difficulty in following conversations in noisy social environments like restaurants. Cost and stigma may still dissuade people from purchasing hearing aids for these situations, but assistive devices such as the Personal Audio Enhancer are certainly worth considering. At a fraction of the cost of hearing aids and a completely different look and style, VitaSound’s Personal Audio Enhancer is a great solution for the typical hearing difficulties and may just help to preserve the brain’s “sound vocabulary” that much longer.
VitaSound Audio Inc (www.vitasound.com) located in Hamilton ON Canada, brings innovative technology to the hearing and audio markets. VitaSound’s patented Neuro-Compensator®, the world’s first neural-based audio enhancement technology, is a powerful digital sound processing software that utilizes leading-edge brain science to optimize incoming audio and provide a clear and natural listening experience—taking the performance of devices to an entirely new level. VitaSound’s line of Neuro-Compensator-based products includes a full range of hearing aids, as well as unique products like the PAE-300 Personal Audio Enhancer, a multi-function audio-enhancement device that improves the listening experience for those with situational hearing difficulties.
The Hearing Industry – Market Facts
In North America, 1 in 9 (11.3%) of the total population suffer from a hearing loss.
- Of the 11.3%, 22% will actually purchase a hearing aid
- 80% of hearing aid users wear two aids and 20%, one aid
- Up to 20% of hearing aids are returned, due to cost and performance
- On average, people will experience seven plus years of loss before considering a hearing aid purchase
- Hearing aid users, on average, replace their aids every three to four years (first time users account for only 10% of annual sales in the industry)
- Overall, this represents a total market in North America of over 35 million potential
Profile of the Hearing Aid Customer
The average age of hearing aid purchasers is 69 years
60% male, 40% female
Average income $55,000
57% are retired (not employed)
Users will typically have moderate to severe hearing loss
Reasons for Purchasing Hearing Aids
Hearing getting worse effecting lifestyle (TV, Music, Social)
Impacts safety, family members/spouse
Recommendation by family doctor or spouse and peer pressure
75% of senior health care is provided by a family member with an average age of 45
57% of caregivers are married women, working full-time and have children
74% of health issues they support are physical / medically related.
71% of adults search products / services on-line. Over 60% use the web to search for health information.
Price, Performance, Convenience, and Stigma Keep the Unaided Population at 78% of Market. This percentage has remained flat for decades even though the overall market is growing (Fig.1)