Historically, the hearing industry has a poor record of reaching younger potential hearing aid users. For example, according to the HR 2006 Dispenser Survey, more than half (55%) of all new hearing aid purchasers in 2005 were between the ages of 65-84, and another 19% were age 85+ (for the complete report, see the June 2006 archives at www.hearingreview.com). In other words, three-quarters (74%) of the people fitted with hearing aids were at retirement age or older.

The data reported by Sergei Kochkin, PhD, in MarkeTrak VII (July 2005 HR), which was funded by Knowles Electronics and reflects consumers’ responses to survey questions, show that the overall hearing aid adoption rate (ie, those people with a “significant hearing loss” who own a hearing instrument) is only 23.5%. However, for those people ages 85+ and 75-84, the adoption rate is 61% and 44%, respectively. That’s pretty good considering all of the variables in this population and the factors surrounding “significant hearing loss” (see discussion by Brent Edwards, PhD, in the March 2006 HR, p 90). Unfortunately, hearing aid adoption rates decline precipitously as we look at younger age groups. Consumers who are 65-74 years old have a hearing aid adoption rate of 31%, and those between ages 55-64 have an adoption rate of 17%. In fact, MarkeTrak VII indicates that the average hearing aid purchaser is 70 years old, while US Census Bureau data indicates that average life expectancy is 78! Bottom line: The vast majority of people with untreated hearing loss are 45-75 years old (see graph below).

Particularly in view of today’s new open-fit and/or slim-tube fittings, we may have an unprecedented opportunity to get amplification devices into the ears of more people who need them—and 15-20 years earlier in their lives. Compared to the products that the industry has been accustomed to marketing, the new slim-tube designs are more cosmetically acceptable (they even look cool to some tech-savvy consumers) and reduce bothersome side-effects like occlusion and feedback. Future hearing aids will almost certainly offer an array of bonus features (eg, wireless communication with cell phones and computers) that make them even cooler, and prices for mild-to-moderate loss devices may very well decline (see “The Value Proposition of Open-Fit Hearing Aids” by Christopher Schweitzer, PhD, in the Sept 2006 HR).

While our target demographic will certainly not change overnight, we are now starting to see products that can appeal to a progressively younger and larger audience. The problem is that our mind-set is still firmly focused on seniors only. The hearing industry and dispensing professionals need to start transmitting a clearer signal: We have a wide range of hearing options—and, no, they’re not just for your mom or grandma anymore.