Among the junk mail indicating you're approaching senior citizen status, hearing aid solicitations rank right up there beside the pitch to join AARP.
Boomers are reaching the age at which hearing loss is more common and the hearing-device market is a robust segment in a health-care industry that overall has outperformed most of the economy during the prolonged downturn.
While most sellers of hearing aids are retail operations for particular device manufacturers, one in this area is distinctly different and widely known for its other services: Bacharach Institute for Rehabilitation.
The rehabilitation hospital has two Bacharach Hearing Centers, one at its Pomona campus in Galloway Township and the other on Shore Road in Somers Point, across from Shore Medical Center.
Having locations adjacent to major hospitals is conducive to the mission of the hearing centers, which goes beyond providing hearing aids.
"Our services include diagnostic and rehabilitation treatment plans for hearing loss, balance disorders and central auditory processing disorders from newborns through adults," said Janet Revelle, who has been with the center at Bacharach since it opened in the early 1980s and is one of four practitioners with doctorates in audiology and a combined 75 years experience.
Every newborn, for example, is given a hearing screening to check for signs of a deficiency, and if one is suspected, the baby and parents usually are referred to the Bacharach Hearing Centers, which have the specialized equipment to test infants for hearing loss, Revelle said.
If a hearing deficiency is confirmed, treatment is readily available through the comprehensive pediatric program at Bacharach Institute, she said.
"Some children also have balance disorders, from various effects on the inner ear," Revelle said. "We refer them to our physical therapy team for vestibular therapy," which helps the nervous system compensate for inner-ear deficits.
Hearing tests also can contribute to the diagnosis of many forms of disability, she said. For example, a test after an accident can show a brain injury if the results differ from a baseline test taken previously.
Revelle said hearing deficiencies can also accelerate some disabilities, such as the loss of connection with the world in dementia patients.
Impaired communication can also interfere with treatment plans for other conditions, she said.
While most people are aware aging can bring hearing loss, less understood are many other causes and cases of hearing loss in people of all ages, she said.
"At last count, there were 34 million people with hearing loss in the U.S., and 22 million of them were under the age of 70," she said.
Loud noise is well known as a contributor to hearing loss, but the duration of noise can matter too.
"We're seeing more hearing loss in 20- and 30-year-olds than we ever did before. In the last 10 years, there has been a 30 percent increase in hearing loss in teenagers," Revelle said.
The problem is often not that they listen to music at too high a volume so much as they listen to it for far too long.
"They can run an iPod for hours at a time with no break. At least when we were using record players, we got breaks," she said.
While the Bacharach Hearing Centers are woven into the fabric of medical care for a variety of conditions, a large part of their work still is the basics of testing hearing and providing a technical solution, typically for older people.
This past month, for example, the centers marketed such services much the way any retail hearing aid center would, with a seminar and initial consultation that included a free lunch at a local restaurant.
The competition in the hearing segment is for a slice of a large and growing pie.
According to a market report published this year by Transparency Market Research, the global audiological devices market was worth $6.2 billion in 2011. Demand for hearing devices is expected to grow at nearly 5 percent a year to 2018, reaching an estimated value of $8.6 billion.
Transparency Market Research said demand is being driven by the aging world population and a related rise in hearing loss, increasing technological advancements in digital hearing aids, and newer forms of hearing devices.
"The rise in incidence of hearing impairment in both children and adults, and occupational, nerve and congenital deafness, generates a large patient pool to be dispensed with hearing aids," the report said.
And the hearing devices available these days are vastly improved over those just a decade ago, with digital technology that targets the help to the exact audio frequencies where users need it.
Through wireless technology, users can also stream directly from mobile phones, television devices and computers into their hearing instrument, Revelle said.
"The technology is so sophisticated now and the sound is much more natural," she said. "You can hear in even challenging circumstances."
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