(BPT) - “Excuse me, can you say that again?” If this sounds typical, you’re not alone. Hearing loss is the third most common health problem in the U.S. with more than 40 million people suffering from it to some degree. Despite all this, only 30 percent of Americans with hearing loss (most of whom are seniors) seek treatment.

To find out why, the manufacturer of Siemens hearing aids polled several hundred seniors at a national conference. Despite most of them admitting to having hearing loss, the survey found seniors are quite passive about their hearing health. About one third of respondents admitted to having their hearing checked only once or twice in their entire life. When visiting their doctor, hearing was the least likely routine health check received — tied with a colonoscopy.

Seniors struggle with perceptions

Seniors completely overestimate how others will react to them wearing hearing aids, according to the data. The majority (51-67 percent) said they don’t wear hearing aids because they fear others will perceive them as “old, feeble or kind of dorky.” Some worry that wearing hearing aids will make them stand out in a crowd in a negative way. Ironically, the vast majority of seniors are not judgmental of another person wearing hearing aids.

Many respondents are also in denial over the social repercussions of their hearing loss. One in four said they don’t want to interact with someone who continuously asks them to repeat themselves, citing that person as “annoying.” Yet, when the situation is reversed, most seniors think it’s perfectly acceptable if they are the ones doing the repeating.

“What I find so interesting is seniors’ perceptions of what makes them look old,” says Emmalyn Loeffler, Au.D., manager of audiology for Sivantos, Inc. “While only one in seven seniors with hearing loss wears hearing aids, 50 percent of seniors admitted to having procedures more commonly associated with vanity, such as getting Botox injections.”

Outdated views of hearing aids

Another common concern among seniors is the perception of hearing aids themselves. Many still view hearing aids as large, clunky devices that simply amplify sound. According to Dr. Loeffler, this is no longer the case.

“We refer to today’s hearing aids as ‘smart’ because they automatically adapt to your environment, learn your preferences, and intelligently focus on sounds you really want to hear. Most people can’t even tell you’re wearing them and some are even invisible when worn,” she says.  

Survey respondents were asked what new features and capabilities they would like to see added to hearing aids, and their answers reflected today’s technology-driven society:

* 73 percent would like rechargeable batteries

* 63 percent suggested adding wireless connectivity

* 54 percent want hearing aids to be water and dirt-proof for outdoor use

* 51 percent would like to control their hearing aids via a smartphone app

Many benefits to treating hearing loss

According to Dr. Loeffler, seniors who regularly have their hearing tested and are proactive in trying to address hearing loss are better able to maintain active social lives, extend their careers, and receive diagnoses of potentially more serious medical conditions early. Moreover, leaving hearing loss untreated makes it difficult to understand and follow a doctor's advice, respond to notifications and alerts (e.g., doorbells, car horns), or enjoy conversations with friends and family. All of these outcomes are frustrating and embarrassing, and some could be dangerous. Rather than ignoring hearing problems, Dr. Loeffler recommends the following:

* Be proactive about getting your hearing checked. Ask your doctor to test your hearing during your yearly checkup to be sure there are no changes. Medicare guidelines will cover diagnostic hearing exams if your physician suspects a problem, so if you are Medicare-eligible, your exam should be covered.

* Baby boomers and seniors are concerned about staying and looking young. One of the best ways to accomplish this is to wear hearing aids to treat hearing loss. Remember, hearing aids don’t make you look old ? not wearing hearing aids when they’re needed does.

* Stay socially active. A simple and painless hearing test can help avoid the irritation that arises from asking others to repeat themselves when you can’t hear. This will benefit you socially and in your career, if you’re still working.