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BHI Urges Employers to Make Hearing Health a Workplace Wellness Priority During Better Hearing Month

Washington, DC, April 16, 2012 - The Better Hearing Institute (BHI) is urging employers to make hearing health a key aspect of their workplace wellness initiatives, the institute announced today. A growing body of research links hearing loss to several costly chronic diseases; a three-fold risk of falling; increased absenteeism; and reduced productivity in the workplace. In recognition of Better Hearing Month, BHI is urging employers to recognize the financial toll that unaddressed hearing loss takes and to make hearing health a part of their wellness programs. To facilitate a timely hearing test for all American workers, BHI is offering an online hearing check (www.hearingcheck.org/) where people can quickly assess if they need a more comprehensive hearing test by a hearing professional. Better Hearing Month takes place each year in May.

“Hearing loss is far more serious than people realize,” says Sergei Kochkin, PhD, BHI’s executive director. “When left unaddressed, hearing loss negatively affects virtually every aspect of an individual’s life. In the workplace especially, this can take a significant toll in terms of stress, dampened morale, lost productivity, weakened performance, and diminished earnings. But in the vast majority of cases, hearing aids do help.”

According to BHI, more than 34 million Americans suffer from hearing loss and roughly 60 percent of them are in the workforce. What’s more, studies show that people with heart disease, diabetes, chronic kidney disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and depression may all have an increased risk of hearing loss—making it all the more urgent for employers to include hearing health as part of their wellness programs and to encourage hearing screenings as part of preventive medical care. Today, more than half (53%) of U.S. employers use wellness programs to reduce their healthcare costs.

Studies show that employees with hearing loss take more sick-days than their colleagues with normal hearing—likely the result of the extra energy expended on overcoming their hearing problem. In fact, a study published in theInternational Journal of Audiology found that employees with hearing loss are as much as five times more likely than their co-workers with normal hearing to experience stress so severe that they must take more sick-days. One reason may be that only four in ten people with moderate-to-severe hearing loss use hearing aids. Even fewer people with mild hearing loss use them—just one in ten.

By including hearing health in their wellness programs, employers also encourage workers to treat hearing loss rather than hide it. Not only does this help the worker, but it creates a working environment where the loss of hearing does not have to interfere with job performance, productivity, safety, or morale.

In a large national study, BHI found that people with untreated hearing loss lose as much as $30,000 in income annually, depending on their degree of hearing loss; that the aggregate yearly loss in income due to underemployment for people with untreated hearing loss is an estimated $176 billion; and that the fiscal cost to society in unrealized federal taxes is an estimated $26 billion. Use of hearing aids was shown to reduce the risk of income loss by 90 to 100 percent for those with milder hearing loss, and from 65 to 77 percent for those with severe to moderate hearing loss.

A recent study, funded by the National Institutes of Health and published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, found that hearing loss is linked to a three-fold risk of falling among working-aged people (40 to 69) with mild hearing loss. In the United States, the cost of falls and the resulting injuries generate billions in health care costs each year.

Numerous studies have linked untreated hearing loss to a wide range of physical and emotional conditions, including impaired memory and ability to learn new tasks, reduced alertness, increased risk of personal safety, irritability, negativism, anger, fatigue, tension, stress, depression, and diminished psychological and overall health. But the vast majority of people with hearing loss can benefit from hearing aids.

In fact, according to BHI, three out of four hearing aid users report improvements in their quality of life due to wearing hearing aids. And studies show that when people with even mild hearing loss use hearing aids, they improve their job performance, increase their earning potential, enhance their communication skills, improve their professional and interpersonal relationships, and stave off depression.

“I cannot emphasize strongly enough that when hearing loss is appropriately acknowledged and addressed, it does not have to interfere with job performance, earnings, or quality of life,” adds Kochkin. “I urge all employers to make hearing health a routine part of their wellness programs.”

To obtain a copy of “Assisting Employees with Hearing Loss,” visit www.betterhearing.org/aural_education_and_counseling/articles_tip_sheets_and_guides/assisting_employees.cfm