My brother-in-law suffered hearing loss attributed to years of working close to the squeal of a dentists drill. But he refused to wear a hearing-aid because of what others might think of him.
In the USA, about 48 million people (20% of the population) have hearing loss in at least one ear, but just 14% of them have hearing-aids according to this article from Fast Company. Hearing is a common affliction of natural ageing – prominent among the ’25 effects of ageing’ discussed in our present in our book.
Clearly a potentially huge untapped market.
For many, apart from the personal stigma, cost is a major barrier with the average price for hearing aids at around US$4,700 a pair rising to over $10,000.
The reason for this situation in the US is partly due to Government regulations requiring hearing-aid manufacturers to be certified by the FDA as medical device makers. A slew of new, lower cost alternative devices called personal sound amplification products, or PSAPs, cannot be marketed as being ‘helpful to people with hearing impairments’.
That assumes of course, that he has the finger dexterity to handle these fiddly things and the technical ability to control the apps that connect them. The answer is probably ‘NO’ to both meaning that manufacturers face barriers, possibly greater than hearing loss, to overcome in order to win older consumers. (Download a free PDF on the 25 Effects of aging here)
Meanwhile, new legislation which is expected to pass by the end of July, would allow any consumer electronics company to sell hearing aids without prescriptions and with only minimal regulation by the FDA.
PSAPs are growing quickly. Some $225 million worth of PSAP devices will be sold in 2017—a 40% increase from last year. And the category is poised to grow another 50% in 2018, due to greater awareness that comes with the new legislation.
There’s a lot at stake. Naturally, the established hearing-aid manufacturers and audiologists stand to lose big if cheaper, over-the counter products become available. Their understandable line is that personalised ‘fittings’ are required for people with ‘moderate’ hearing loss – this definition applies to many senior consumers!
The Fast Company article concludes as will I, with the ‘elephant in the room’;
“And then there’s Apple. The company’s wireless AirPods have already made it acceptable to have something sticking out of your ears. Apple hasn’t said anything about adding hearing assistance, but the company prides itself on offering accessibility technology to users.
If tastemaker Apple were to add speech enhancement to future AirPods, the stigma of hearing aids might go away instantly.”