CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE — James Saad expects his Middle Township hearing-aid business to get busier in coming years, but not for the most obvious reason.
Yes, more baby boomers are contending with getting older, and 60 percent of Americans older than 70 experience hearing impairments.
But Saad said a new market has opened up among younger adults who are increasingly likely to embrace hearing aids as a technological tool like an iPod or pedometer.
“The stigma is gone,” Saad said. “Because of young people’s perceptions of technology, they are more inclined to get hearing health care. They’re not afraid of it.”
Saad, 61, runs the Cape May County Hearing Aid Dispensary with his younger brother, Richard, 58, both of Wildwood Crest.
The dispensary provides hearing tests and fits customers with aids that suit their disability and their lifestyle. The devices come in a variety of functional styles. Some slip over the ear like a pair of glasses. Others are seated in the ear canal like an earplug. Others, such as the one Saad wears, are even smaller with a tiny projected microphone.
Saad said he suspects he suffered his hearing loss from his years performing in a rock band as a young adult.
“I would have to stand right in front of the amplifiers every night,” he said.
But hearing loss can occur in practically anyone. About 15 percent of children under 18 have some measurable hearing loss, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
And occupational hearing loss is the most common work-related injury in the United States, according to the CDC. About 22 million people are exposed to hazardous noise levels at work. Hearing loss annually costs employers $242 million in workman’s compensation disability claims.
“We see members of the military, police officers, firefighters, metal workers, landscapers,” he said.
The brothers learned the business from their father, who started selling the devices in 1938. Saad joined the business in 1971. His brother, Richard, joined him three years later.
A non-invasive hearing test takes about an hour. Matching and fitting the customer with the appropriate device takes about another hour, James Saad said.
As with eyeglasses or contact lenses, Medicare doesn’t cover the purchase of hearing aids, which can be quite expensive. Digital hearing aids cost between $1,200 and $3,500. The store also sells cheaper analog versions for $500 to $800.
Saad moved the business from Rio Grande to Main Street in Cape May Court House, which has experienced a transition in the past 20 years from county offices to medical practices.
Saad said he expects future generations of aids to sync directly to telephones, televisions and other electronics, much like Bluetooth devices do today.
“I am very encouraged by where it is going,” he said. “You’ll see a lot of input from tech companies like Apple and Microsoft.”
The industry got a boost in 1983 when then-President Ronald Reagan publicly wore a hearing aid.
“People said if the president can wear a hearing aid, anyone can,” he said. “Lots of politicians wear hearing aids. They’re so small today that you wouldn’t know someone is wearing them.”
The devices last about five years under normal wear as long as they are not crushed, dunked in water or otherwise abused.
“A hearing aid is exposed to a wealth of harsh conditions: air pollution, dirt, temperature variations,” Saad said.
Contact Michael Miller:
Cape May County Hearing Aid Dispensary
Location: 204 S. Main St., Middle Township
Owners: Richard J. Saad and James L. Saad, both of Wildwood Crest
Revenues: Not disclosed