MONTPELIER – The Community of Vermont Elders (COVE) launched new promotional campaign “Hearing Loss Thursdays” to raise awareness about the thousands of Vermonters living with untreated hearing loss.
The nonprofit group, which focuses on issues affecting older people, will publish a blog each Thursday on vermontelders.org to help draw attention to the cause.
“When we talk about how to make real grassroots change, the first step is to make sure that all those ‘roots’ know about the issue,” said COVE Executive Director Ruby Baker. “We want hearing loss to be something everyone thinks about.”
“This issue disproportionately affects older people,” Baker said. “And as one of the oldest states in the nation, the impact is compounded in Vermont.”
What some Vermonters may not realize is the cost of hearing aids are not covered by private insurance in state. Many older people, especially those living on a fixed income, cannot afford to purchase them and are forced to suffer in silence.
“Of those 70 and older who could benefit from hearing aids, fewer than one in three has ever used them,” Baker said. This places them at increased risk for a variety of health and safety issues.
“Untreated hearing loss can affect a person in many ways,” Baker said. “Increasing the experience of isolation and loneliness, limiting a person’s ability to remain in the workforce, increasing risk of Alzheimer’s and related dementias, and dramatically increasing risk of falls.”
“Vermont has one of the highest rates of death from falls in the country,” Baker said. “This is a very real issue, and we are the only state in New England that has not addressed it in any way.”
Not everyone who suffers from hearing loss may be aware that they need a hearing aid, Baker said.
“Hearing loss can be very gradual and people can live for years without realizing that they aren’t hearing as well as they used to,” she explained. “Older people may start to participate less, blend in with the background at family gatherings or choose not to go at all.”
Baker described the options for affordable hearing loss as “incredibly limited” and said she hopes Vermont will follow the lead of other New England states and pass a bill to cover the cost of hearing aids.
For more information on Hearing Loss Thursdays, visit vermontelders.org.