Reversing the "Hearing Aid Effect"

Trends have to start somewhere. In fashion, it’s on the runways of New York City or Paris. For music, content that spreads on social media makes songs and artists popular. And for sports, it’s TV and branding that makes certain athletes more popular than others, more “relatable” in a way. But what about hearing aids? 

Unlike the commodities and persons above, the trends involving hearing aids aren’t specific to a brand or product. They are based on emotion, stigma and perception. The original hearing aid trend is referred to as the “hearing aid effect.”

The “hearing aid effect”
Years ago, wearing hearing aids made a statement, usually one the wearer didn’t want to make. Hearing aids of the 70s, 80s and early 90s were large, bulky, uncomfortable, hard to control, exhibited a whistling feedback and lent more embarrassment than assistance to the user. The negative term “the hearing aid effect” was born, associating hearing loss with the old or incapable.

Individuals viewed people with hearing aids as being less intelligent, less capable and essentially not “normal.” Early studies showed that children found other children with hearing aids less intelligent and less attractive (Dengerink & Porter, 1984; Silverman & Klees, 1989). A study with college students by Blood and Danaher in 1977 found that a series of photographs featuring boys with hearing aids were rated lower for intelligence, achievement, personality and appearance than the photographs featuring boys without hearing aids. 

What’s changed?
Today’s culture is all about modern technology, sleek smartphones and following social trends started by celebrities and political figures. It is now commonplace to see ears adorned with technology. No one bats an eye or stops to decipher if someone is wearing an earbud for an MP3 player or a hearing aid. Both are accepted, even commonplace. Teenagers connect to music and movies using headphones. Business professionals connect to meetings using personalized audio equipment. Unlike the years before, we are now capable of providing necessary technology and satisfying the cosmetic desires of the public. 

Hearing aids are now small, discreet and comfortable. Some are completely undetectable. More effective feedback management, wireless technology and the ability to function with smartphone devices to stream calls and media has led to overall improved lifestyle performance, which in turn calls less attention to someone’s hearing loss. Modern day hearing aids don’t denote lesser intelligence or capability. According to a 2014 study by Erik Rauterkus and Catherine Palmer, published as “The hearing aid effect in 2013” in the Journal of the American Academy of Audiology, hearing aids now actually demand increased levels of respect.  

It isn’t only the sleeker designs and highly advanced technology that has contributed to this positive view. Researchers speculate that a combination of factors has positively contributed to the reduction in the “hearing aid effect.” Improvements in hearing aid design and performance as well as decreased size could all be factors. But there are three other factors that have similarly led to a positive outlook on hearing aids.

Unintentional camouflaging from the music, communications and fitness industries
The music and communications industries indirectly made hearing aids “OK” with the creation of ear-level devices such as headphones and earbuds for listening to music and Bluetooth headsets that allow people to take calls with no hands. The fitness world has made hearing aids more acceptable with headphones for running or biking. Bluetooth and listening devices are so commonplace today that no one thinks about them. They denote popularity, social commonalities, activity and cultural involvement. Many of these devices look similar to some hearing aids, making them more accepted by society. 

Celebrities have hearing loss, too?
The awareness of prominent public figures and known celebrities with hearing loss has done a lot to reduce the stigma. Presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton both were open about their hearing loss and use of Starkey Hearing Technologies’ hearing aids. Musicians such as Pete Townsend and Neil Young have likewise become open about discussing their hearing loss and use of hearing aids. NFL star Derrick Coleman put hearing aids on the map for athletes when he was fitted with Starkey’s Halo™ hearing aids and became an advocate for the Starkey Hearing Foundation. 

The increasing involvement of big name figures and companies has led to unquestioning social acceptance. Public figures are opening the floor for the discussion on hearing loss, and many have become social advocates for raising awareness and helping to battle hearing loss by working with the Starkey Hearing Foundation. Musical superstars such as Matt Nathanson, along with renowned professional athletes from the NFL and NHL, Derrick Coleman and David Backes, are helping to raise awareness by participating in international mission trips year-round. 

Apple and the iPhone Revolution
With iPhone popularity has come the need for Made For iPhone® (MFi) technology. Starkey released its Halo product late in 2014. Because Halo is useable with iPhone and select Android™ products, it’s quickly making hearing aids cool. 

Hearing aids aren’t age-based, intelligence-based or for a certain segment of the population. They are sleek, smart, cool and for anyone and everyone with hearing loss, at any age and any time.

Check out our incredible products here to learn more about hearing aids today.

By Beth McCormick, Au.D.