What are PSAPs and why are they Ineffective for Hearing Loss?

older woman with health professional

One out of six baby boomers experience hearing loss, but PSAPs are not the answer.

As the second largest generation of Americans continues to age, more and more members of the Boomer era are experiencing hearing loss. The youngest Baby Boomers are turning 55 in 2019, and 1 in 3 have some level of hearing loss, with 1 in 6 having a level of disabling hearing loss for those under 65, and 1 in 4 for those over 65. nearly half of all seniors over the age of 75 have severe hearing loss - yet, across all these ranges, only around 16-30% of those who could benefit from hearing aids use them.

Hearing aids are more easily accessed than ever, and much of the cost is typically picked up by insurance or Veteran's Affairs. However, many seniors may balk at going in for hearing tests or seeking an official diagnosis for hearing loss, and many more who do obtain correctly fitted hearing aids still don't wear them. Why then have PSAPs (Personal Sound Amplification Products) started to be seen more and more across the country for sale in all kinds of venues?

The Truth Behind PSAPs
While PSAPs have the apparent "advantage" of being cheap, easy to obtain, and simple to operate, they are not a good replacement for true hearing aids. The studies around PSAPs have focused on surveying groups of younger people with normal range of hearing to see if they would be interested in a sound amplification product. PSAPs are meant for that demographic, but results of these studies are being used as an excuse to push PSAPs as a solution for issues they were not designed for. They are not being marketed simply to the young and fit as a way to amplify sound, but also as a hearing aid replacement for seniors with hearing loss, in direct opposition to their stated use.

PSAPs can be Harmful
PSAPs can actually cause worsened hearing loss when used by those who have significant hearing impairment. Unlike hearing aids, which can be configured to only amplify sounds above a certain loudness, to focus on sound directionally, such as the voice of a person in front of you instead of music behind you, and to compensate for things like hearing loss occurring from varied conditions, PSAPs do only one thing - amplify sound. This means that soft sounds are made louder, and loud sounds are made extremely loud.

Younger people with normal hearing might find PSAPs useful in certain situations in which amplified sound is helpful, but as a replacement for hearing aids, they are not suitable and should be avoided regardless of their low price and ease of purchase. Hearing loss can be exacerbated by improper use of PSAPs making it harder to regain conversational hearing and be able to effectively use real hearing aids.

As the second largest generation of Americans continues to age, more and more members of the Boomer era are experiencing hearing loss.