‘We Hear You Baltimore’ expands access to hearing care for older adults | GUEST COMMENTARY

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As we age, our hearing declines and, for many, it can decline significantly. Almost all of us will experience hearing loss to some degree as we age. But while hearing care is widely available, millions of older adults in this country go without it because it is not easily accessible, and numerous barriers exist.

Navigating the complex health care system requires a great deal of time, mobility, and expertise. And seeking treatment can be expensive. With the average cost of two hearing aids in the U.S. at approximately $4,700, it is not surprising that, of those suffering with hearing loss, just 20% of older white adults regularly use hearing aids. That figure is even lower among minority and lower-income adults.


Left untreated, hearing loss is also associated with an increased risk of falls, dementia and accelerated cognitive decline, among other negative outcomes. As a result, adults with untreated hearing loss incur substantially higher total health care costs than those who don’t — an average of 46%, totaling $22,434 over a decade.

The existing model is clearly not working and should be deemed unacceptable, particularly considering that we know hearing care is a low-risk intervention that may be critical in slowing cognitive decline, reducing health care costs, and ensuring older adults remain vibrant, engaged members of their families and community. Therefore, our organizations have joined forces to address this issue and help ensure low-income older adults in Baltimore receive this essential care to live healthier, happier lives.


We created “We Hear You Baltimore” to expand access to hearing care for older adults by removing barriers that stand in the way. The process can begin with a simple phone call to Maryland Access Point (410-396-2273), a Baltimore City Health Department Division of Aging and Care Services program. Based on an initial conversation, a hearing health navigator assesses an individual’s needs and then connects them with either HASA or Access HEARS, both Baltimore-based organizations. HASA offers a reduced fee hearing aid program for individuals with public or private insurance who qualify based on income. Access HEARS connects individuals with low-cost, high-quality over-the-counter technologies. Throughout the entire process — from the initial intake call to ultimately receiving a hearing device and through follow-ups — the hearing health navigator serves as the point of contact for each client and their caregivers.

We envision a city where every older adult gets this critical health service and avoids the negative health consequences that result from untreated hearing loss. Since launching “We Hear You Baltimore,” 360 community health advocates have been educated, and 286 older adults have been served. But there is still much more work to be done. We invite you to help us spread the word, especially to those who need it the most. Hearing care can be affordable. It can also be accessible. And it can truly change lives.

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Darius Graham is Baltimore program director at The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation. Jim Macgill is assistant commissioner at the Baltimore City Health Department Division of Aging and Care Services. Carrie Nieman is co-founder of Access HEARS. Erin Stauder is chief executive officer of HASA.