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Hearing loss can take many forms: It can be mild or severe, present at birth or begin later in life, occur gradually or suddenly, result from a health condition or accompany aging. It is estimated that 30 million people in the United States have hearing loss, and hearing loss has been identified as the fifth leading cause, globally, of years lived with disability. Furthermore, as the U.S. population of older adults increases, hearing loss will become an area of greater concern. Hearing is a vital human sense that can be important to communication and health and can affect quality of life. Yet for a variety of reasons, many people with hearing loss do not seek out or receive hearing health care. Estimates of hearing aid use are that 67 to 86 percent of adults (50 years and older) who may benefit from hearing aids do not use them, and many hearing assistive technologies as well as auditory rehabilitation services are not fully utilized. Long seen as an issue for individuals (and to some extent their families and friends), there is a growing recognition that hearing loss is a significant public health concern that can be addressed by actions at multiple levels.
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine convened an expert committee to study the accessibility and affordability of hearing health care for adults in the United States. Using a set of guiding principles to help shape its work, the committee recommends key institutional, technological, and regulatory changes that would enable consumers to find and fully use the appropriate, affordable, and high-quality services, technologies, and supports they need. The resulting report, Hearing Health Care for Adults: Priorities for Improving Access and Affordability, provides those recommendations.