Pan American Health Organization, with the World Health Organization, defines healthy aging as a “continuous process of optimizing opportunities to maintain and improve physical and mental health, independence, and quality of life throughout the life course.” In 2022, the FDA took a large step toward helping nearly 30 million Americans with mild-to-moderate hearing loss engage in healthy aging by allowing easier access to hearing aids. The FDA’s final rule, issued in August, creates a new, over-the-counter (OTC) category of hearing aids that would be available in retail outlets, without prescription.
This simple, two-fold approach to solving an unmet need is a great example of innovation with a purpose: creating access to hearing aids by reducing the friction of cost, and removing the hurdle of needing to see a physician. This is significant, as it is estimated that only about 20% of people with hearing loss seek treatment.
From a behavioral standpoint, this change is striking in how much it aligns with the science of motivation. Here’s how it can impact the way we behave:
Reducing stigma around hearing aids.
Imagine a kiosk of hearing aids right next to the readers at the drug store. This easy access has the potential of reducing stigma associated with age-related hearing loss. Bringing hearing aids out from the confines of the doctor’s office and putting them in plain view can make them seem commonplace, and could be a step toward rebranding them as a solution for getting the most out of life, rather something to be embarrassed about.
Swapping isolation for autonomy.
Hearing loss jeopardizes social connectedness and contributes to people feeling isolated. Not only does easier access to hearing aids help people achieve what is most important to them, it fosters motivation, by meeting the core psychological need of autonomy and giving them the independence of when, where, and how to obtain a solution.
Removing barriers to motivation.
It is easy to see how, in the hustle and bustle of daily life, a slow onset condition like mild-to-moderate hearing loss gets deprioritized. OTC access to hearing aids fits into the dynamics of real life. They are available at critical micro moments, such as a small opening of time when standing in line at a check-out counter at the drug store. This option facilitates a healthy aging journey by aligning with the natural ebb and flow of human motivation.
While visits to a health care professional may still be required for those who need more customized solutions in hearing aids, for millions of Americans with mild-to-moderate hearing loss, making hearing aids available OTC provides a simplified pathway and a motivational boost for seeking out what they need to enjoy a better quality of life.