|By Kim Lamb Gregory, Ventura County Star, Calif.|
His wife said, "I'm tired of hearing, 'What did they say?' " Brisbois said.
Not that his hearing loss surprised the 58-year-old baby boomer.
"This goes back years ago to when we stood next to a speaker as big as we were and listened to
The tide of baby boomers crossing into their golden years is creating an explosion of age-related hearing loss, and a lucrative market for those who dispense hearing aids.
"The number of people with hearing loss is going up so dramatically that hearing-loss providers are ecstatic about the profits they will make for the coming years," said
According to state
"There are some unscrupulous types, whether they be hearing-aid dispensers, auto-repair dealers or contractors who will try to rip off seniors," Hemerich said.
Thanks to baby boomers -- those born between 1946 and 1964 -- the number of seniors in America is at historic highs. And as people age, their chance of hearing loss increases, according to the
Of adults ages 45 to 64, 18 percent report some hearing loss. That number rises to 30 percent for adults 65 to 74, and almost half -- 47 percent -- report hearing loss at age 75 or older.
As America ages, the number of people looking to sell hearing aids is bound to increase, but not all are equally qualified, according to Dr.
"We see so many patients out here who go to hearing-aid dispensers in the community," Ishiyama said. "It's sad because a lot of people are not qualified to dispense hearing aids. They do it simply for economic reasons, and the patients suffer."
"By virtue of the provider population growing and the elderly population continuing to grow and because people are living longer, we are seeing more cases," Del Mugnaio said.
Hearing aids are not covered by
"This is a major financial investment, especially for an elderly person on a fixed income or
"Between understanding the hearing-aid technology, use and care of the equipment, the purchase agreement, right-of-return policies and just overall expense, purchasing hearing aids can be an overwhelming experience, especially for those declining in age and cognition."
TIGHTENING THE LAW
"I'm probably seeing as many baby boomers as I am older people," said
Baby boomers, she said, are coming in much sooner than their parents' generation because they're more comfortable with technology and haven't been discouraged by the older "big ugly beige things in their ears that whistle," Baker said.
"Especially with the economic crisis, they've got to be able to hear their bosses," Baker said. "They want to be able to hear their family, their grandchildren."
"Now I'm seeing people who want to correct their hearing in their 50s and 60s who have been to a few too many rock concerts or they've been in the construction industry," Roberts said.
As hearing-aid consumers multiply, the state audiology board is working to tighten laws and rules for dispensers, Del Mugnaio said. The Song-Beverly law covers a wide range of consumer goods -- from automobiles to medical devices -- and the board is trying to clarify it.
"In the act itself, the return and refund part is very unclear and has been interpreted many different ways," she said. "You have some providers who believe they are operating within the law."
Del Mugnaio said the board is currently supporting Senate Bill 1444, which would provide more clarity for both providers and consumers of medical devices.
Those in the industry believe there is confusion among customers about the difference between an audiologist and a hearing-aid dispenser. Audiologists must have a doctoral degree to enter the practice, which includes about four years of professional training. Some, but not all, dispense hearing aids.
Hearing-aid dispensers need only be at least 18, have a high school diploma and take the classes necessary to pass an oral and practical state exam.
Del Mugnaio said the number of people taking the state exam has fluctuated, from 90 in 2006-07 to 240 in 2007-08 and back down to 105 in 2010-11. She said the decline last year may stem from legislation effective
"I really feel dispensing should be allotted to audiologists," Baker said. "You're not selling a blender. You're not selling a TV. You're selling a medical device."
Roberts, a hearing-aid dispenser locally for 17 years, agreed "there's a lot of people out there doing the work and they're not experienced or well-trained. They fit people with inferior instruments and then charge them."
Ventura County Senior Deputy District Attorney
"Her grandson's dog decided to make the hearing aid a chew toy," Harman said.
Walker sold the woman another hearing aid and sent the damaged one back to the manufacturer for a replacement, which she then put back into her stock, according to Harman.
Harman said this is the only case of its kind that he has prosecuted, "but having looked into this case, it's definitely an area ripe for fraud." And senior citizens may suffer cognitive decline or health problems before a case goes to trial, potentially complicating their testimony, he said.
A regulatory case decided this year involved
"So he adjusted them once, then twice," Rossman said. "Then I realized these hearing aids were not for me."
Rossman and Saurmann said they both tried to return the hearing aids and Ball refused, even though the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act says consumers have 30 days to seek a full refund.
Saurmann made a video of Rossman returning the hearing aids and picketed the
"I picketed for hearing-aid rights," Saurmann said.
Rossman eventually was refunded
"I heard the exact same thing from them," she said. "Any time a patient wanted to return hearing aids, Kiely would either talk them out of it or not give them their money."
The state audiology board found merit in a complaint Saurmann filed in
In the settlement, Ball agreed to pay the board
Ball said Saurmann has a vendetta against him.
"I believe this entire thing is a campaign to besmirch my name," Ball said in March.
"Hearing-aid dispensers and audiologists are very competitive in this industry and have been since the beginning," Ball said. "I believe this is why
Saurmann, however, said she does not sell hearing aids, which employer
In March, the
Del Mugnaio said the state audiology board is working with the
Hearing-loss experts urge consumers to educate themselves, shop carefully, and above all -- take hearing loss seriously.
"Only about 20 percent of the people who could benefit from hearing aids are actually seeking treatment," said audiologist
Oyler said untreated hearing loss is reaching epidemic levels in America, and that will have serious consequences.
"People, once they need a hearing aid, may take 10 to 15 years to actually do something about it," Oyler said. "This can lead to social isolation, depression and difficulty at work."
Hearing loss doesn't just affect you, but everyone around you, hearing-aid customer Brisbois said. "There comes a point where your spouse becomes your hearing aid."
A 2011 study out of
"Now when I'm in a room with other people, I'm not alone anymore," he said.
(c)2012 Ventura County Star (Camarillo, Calif.)
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|Source:||McClatchy-Tribune Information Services|