Market surveys consistently show that only 22% of those with hearing loss own hearing aids. This is often ascribed to cosmetics, but is it possible that patients apply a different auditory criterion than do audiologists and manufacturers? We tabulated hearing aid ownership in a survey of 1000 consecutive patients. We separated hearing loss cases, with one cohort in which word recognition in quiet could improve with gain (vs. 40 dB HL) and another without such improvement but nonetheless with audiometric thresholds within the manufacturer’s fitting ranges. Overall, we found that exactly 22% of hearing loss patients in this sample owned hearing aids; the same finding has been reported in many previous, well-accepted surveys. However, while all patients in the two cohorts experienced difficulty in noise, patients in the cohort without word recognition improvement were found to own hearing aids at a rate of 0.3%, while those patients whose word recognition could increase with level were found to own hearing aids at a rate of 50%. Results also coherently fit a logistic model where shift of the word recognition performance curve by level corresponded to the likelihood of ownership. In addition to the common attribution of low hearing aid usage to patient denial, cosmetic issues, price, or social stigma, these results provide one alternative explanation based on measurable improvement in word recognition performance.
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