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Address Hearing Loss in the Workplace and Reap the Rewards, BHI Urges Employers and Employees for National Employee Wellness Month

WASHINGTON, DC -- (Marketwired) -- 06/02/14 -- Addressing hearing loss on the job should be a workplace wellness priority, says the Better Hearing Institute (BHI), pointing out that in today's service and knowledge-based economy, good communication is critical to business success for both the employer and the employee. In recognition of National Employee Wellness Month in June, BHI is urging employers to include hearing tests and hearing health as part of their workplace wellness programs. Fortunately, hearing aids -- as well as other appropriate treatments and workplace accommodations -- can help individuals function optimally on the job.

To help facilitate timely hearing self-screenings for all American workers, BHI is offering a free and confidential online hearing check at www.BetterHearing.org, where anyone can quickly assess if they need a more comprehensive hearing test by a hearing healthcare professional. The earlier hearing loss gets treated the better.

BHI believes that by empowering America's workers with information on hearing health and options for addressing hearing loss, they can become more informed healthcare consumers and more productive, satisfied employees. BHI also is underscoring the point that hearing loss in the workplace is not the concern, but rather leaving hearing loss unaddressed is. When hearing loss is addressed, it does not have to get in the way.

A Changing Economic Landscape

America has reached the point where hearing health must become a workplace wellness imperative.

The U.S. economy now depends largely on employment that demands good communications skills. Service and knowledge-based work has become increasingly dominant. America also is experiencing a demographic shift toward a maturing labor force. People are staying in the workforce longer; baby boomers are on the threshold of their golden years; and the rate at which young people are entering the job market is slowing as a result of population changes. What's more, just as we're seeing this convergence of economic circumstances, we also are witnessing an increase in adult hearing loss at younger ages.

Already, nearly 40 million Americans suffer from hearing loss. The majority of them are in the workforce. And according to EPIC's "Listen Hear!" survey, more than 10 percent of full-time employees have a diagnosed hearing problem. Another 30 percent suspect they have a problem but have not sought treatment.

The Pitfalls of Brushing Off Hearing Loss

By limiting one's ability to communicate effectively, unaddressed hearing loss can unnecessarily affect productivity, job performance, and earnings; lead to fatigue and distress; restrict interpersonal interactions; make it difficult to receive and interpret auditory information from computers, machines, and individuals; pose a risk to one's ability to hear sounds that signal hazards in the work environment; increase sick leave, presenteeism, and disengagement from work; and diminish overall quality of life.

What's more, an increased risk of hearing loss is tied to three of the most significant wellness concerns of American employers: obesity, diabetes, and smoking.

A national BHI study even found that people with untreated hearing loss lose as much as $30,000 in income annually, depending on their degree of hearing loss. The aggregate yearly loss in income due to underemployment for people with untreated hearing loss is an estimated $176 billion. And the fiscal cost to society in unrealized federal taxes is an estimated $26 billion. This doesn't even measure the impact that unaddressed hearing loss has on worker productivity, absenteeism, and presenteeism.

Not surprisingly, EPIC's "Listen Hear!" survey found that almost all (95%) of employees who suspect they have a hearing problem but have not sought treatment, say they believe their untreated hearing loss impacts them on the job in at least one way. From asking people to repeat what they have said (61%), to misunderstanding what is being said (42%), to even pretending to hear when they can't (40%), the burden that comes with leaving hearing loss unaddressed weighs heavily on America's workers.

Why Addressing Hearing Loss Is a Smart Business Practice

Fortunately, when addressed, hearing loss is largely manageable. The vast majority of people with hearing loss can benefit from hearing aids. Eight out of ten hearing aid users say they're satisfied with the changes that have occurred in their lives specifically due to their hearing aids.

A national BHI study even found that the use of hearing aids reduced the risk of income loss dramatically -- by 90 to 100 percent for those with milder hearing loss, and from 65 to 77 percent for those whose hearing loss was severe to moderate. The study also found that people with severe hearing loss who do use hearing aids are nearly twice as likely to be employed as their peers who do not use them.

Today, most U.S. employers have some type of wellness program. By including hearing tests and hearing health information in workplace wellness programs -- as well as including hearing aids as an employee benefit -- employers encourage workers to treat hearing loss rather than hide it. Not only does this help the worker, but it creates a work environment where employer and employee can team up to ensure that a worker's hearing loss does not interfere with job performance, productivity, safety, quality of life, morale, opportunities, or success in the workplace.

In today's rapidly changing business landscape, where organizations are coming to rely more heavily on maturing workers who have valuable experience and expertise, this employer-employee partnership is critical for bottom-line success.

For a step-by-step breakdown of what to expect, ask, and look for when visiting a hearing healthcare professional and purchasing a hearing aid, download "Your Guide to Buying Hearing Aids" at www.BetterHearing.org or http://ow.ly/xvlow.

For information and resources on workplace wellness, along with information on National Employee Wellness Month, visit www.NationalEmployeeWellnessMonth.com.

Five Things Employers Should Know About Hearing Loss & Employee Health

1. Hearing loss is tied to depression. Research shows that hearing loss is associated with an increased risk of depression in adults of all ages, but is most pronounced in 18 to 69 year olds. Research also shows that the use of hearing aids reduces depressive symptoms. http://ow.ly/vvZEz & http://ow.ly/vWv7m

2. Hearing loss is twice as common in people with diabetes. Studies show that people with diabetes are twice as likely to have hearing loss. When broken down by age, one study showed that those 60 and younger are at greater risk. http://ow.ly/xvn6W

3. Your hearing may say something about your heart. Cardiovascular and hearing health are linked. Some experts say the inner ear is so sensitive to blood flow that it's possible that abnormalities in the cardiovascular system could be noted here earlier than in other less sensitive parts of the body. http://ow.ly/xwLUh

4. Staying fit may also help your hearing. Research on women's health shows that a higher level of physical activity is associated with a lower risk of hearing loss. Conversely, a higher body mass index (BMI) and larger waist circumference in women are each associated with a higher risk of hearing loss. http://ow.ly/xvnsj

5. Hearing loss may put you at greater risk of falling and hospitalization. A Johns Hopkins study showed that people in middle age (40 to 69) with even just mild hearing loss were nearly three times more likely to have a history of falling. Another Johns Hopkins study showed that hospitalization is more likely for older adults with hearing loss. http://ow.ly/vwchC http://ow.ly/vwbZe

What's Different About Today's Hearing Aids?

According to the EPIC "Listen Hear!" survey, most people don't realize that hearing aids have come a long way; nor do they realize that hearing aids are eligible expenses for flexible savings accounts (FSAs) and health savings accounts (HSAs).

Hearing aids today are dramatically more advanced than the hearing aids of even just a few years ago. Many of today's hearing aids allow users to hear from all directions, in all sorts of sound environments, and even underwater. They are digital, wireless, can connect directly to your smartphone or television, and can be as discreet or as visible as you like. A new rechargeable feature on some newly designed hearing aids even allows you to recharge your hearing aids every night, so there's no more need for small batteries.

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