Liz Meyer, one of the site audiologists at the Evanston clinic. (Photo by Gabriel Lima)

In the United States, more than 30 million adults over the age of 65 suffer from hearing loss, but only 20% of them purchase and use hearing aids, despite many recent advances such as improved reception, reduction in size and more funding sources available to assist those who cannot afford them.

The difficulties associated with hearing health care is one of the primary areas of study for Sumitrajit Dhar, Ph.D. He runs the Auditory Research Laboratory through the Center for Audiology, Speech, Language and Learning within Northwestern University’s School of Communication.

Currently, Dhar’s lab is working on a joint patient-centered hearing aid trial and recruiting new qualified participants. The other participating institutions are Northwestern Medicine’s Department of Otolaryngology in Chicago, the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston and the Seratoma Speech and Hearing Center in Palos Hills, Illinois.

The study seeks adults who are between 50 and 79; have never worn hearing aids; are able to purchase two discounted, high-end, rechargeable hearing aids for a total of $650; and are able to attend three in-person study sessions over a six-month period. Those who qualify will receive $20 gift cards after each session to assist with travel expenses. There is a four-year warranty on the hearing aids and a three-year warranty on the charger.

The four centers involved in the study are using social media, posters, video clips and word of mouth to promote their research and the need to enroll qualified participants. In 2021, the Levy Senior Center Foundation provided information about the study online and via email to seniors in Evanston, resulting in 47 new enrollees who purchased the discounted hearing aids.

“We are very grateful to everyone who has already agreed to participate in the study,” said Mary Meskan, an audiologist and researcher participating in the study. “We want them to know that their experiences are providing us with valuable information that will improve how people obtain hearing aids in the future. The study will be enrolling new participants through 2022, and we hope more people from the community can join in the coming months.”

Researchers hope to understand why people are reluctant to accept hearing loss, seek assistance to remedy it and encourage them to use hearing aids. Each aspect of hearing loss affects individuals differently, with factors such as access to quality health care, trust of those delivering health care, vanity, self-image and cost considerations, among others, varying in level of importance.

“A goal of the hearing aid study is to identify alternative pathways to access hearing health care and determine the effectiveness of the new pathways,” Meskan added.

To see if you qualify, go to the study’s website or call 877-884-5242.

Wendi Kromash

Wendi Kromash is curious about everything and will write about anything. She tends to focus on one-on-one interviews with community leaders, recaps and reviews of cultural events, feature stories about...