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Out of the Shadows: Hearing Loss Gains Mainstream Acceptance

Out of the Shadows: Hearing Loss Gains Mainstream Acceptance

Every once in a while, you learn something that you already knew. For example, the oldest known hearing aids are at the end of your arm. For centuries, people have cupped a hand over an ear to help them hear better, something all of us have done, even when we were young. And while this certainly helps, to a point, the obvious need for something better has also been around for years.

Over the years, there have been dramatic improvements in the treatment of hearing loss, with significant improvements in hearing aids. Yet, as with repeatedly cupping your ear, there has often been a stigma associated with wearing these instruments. This stigma can delay someone from getting a hearing instrument, and in many cases how often they’re used, thereby reducing their effectiveness. In recent years, several factors have combined to alter this dynamic and have hopefully lead to better outcomes for the millions of people in the US with hearing loss.

History of Hearing Aids

Hearing aids themselves have had a long history and have seen tremendous changes over the centuries.

When ear trumpets replaced the cupped hand in the 1600s, hearing instruments began a constant use (and improvement) through the early 19th century.

With the advent of the telephone and microphone, the first electronic hearing aids arrived in 1886 with the introduction of the Akouphone from American inventor Miller Reese Hutchison. Further improvements in the 20th century included vacuum tube models in the 1920s and eventually transistor-based models starting in the early 50s. These were the first “small” hearing aids, with prior models being very large and bulky with limited use and thereby furthering the stigma associated with hearing loss.

With the first digital models in the late 1980s, hearing aids finally started to look like some of the models we see today. These new sizes, coupled with a tremendous improvement in the underlying device technology provided users with a much better treatment of their specific hearing loss. 

Gaining Acceptance

Yet the significant technology improvements in and of themselves did not significantly increase the social acceptance of hearing aids. For someone with hearing loss, you were still required to wear something on or near your ear that immediately identified you as having hearing loss.

Instead, it was changes in popular culture that have made people more comfortable wearing their hearing aids. As Walkman headphones turned to ear buds and Bluetooth devices for phone calls became the norm, electronic “accessories” on your ear became much more common. In fact, many hearing aid manufacturers are embedding Bluetooth technology in their newer hearing aids to allow those with hearing loss to take calls on the go, but with all the benefits of a hearing instrument!


It is a generally accepted fact that people’s perception of their hearing loss does not match up with reality. Most people significantly underestimate their hearing loss and that denial impacts their overall acceptance of treatment and eventually can lead to isolation from friends and family members.

Technology has not only made hearing aids function better, it’s inadvertently created mainstream acceptance of hearing accessories. The hope is this trend will continue to reduce the stigma of hearing loss and, potentially, reduce the 7-year average people wait between first learning of their need for a hearing aid and when they finally get one.

Additional Resources

Healthy Hearing has a comprehensive history of hearing aids we found interesting

This New York Times article describes the improvements in hearing aid technology and how that impacts treatment today

An interesting article about one person’s experience in underestimating their hearing loss

Great viewpoint on the future of technology and how that may drive younger people to getting their hearing loss treated with a hearing aid

Have you become more comfortable wearing hearing aids over the past few years? Share your stories in the comments below.

Posted by NJAdmin on Jan 16, 2018