Monday, October 3, 2011

Some Interesting Numbers

Hearing loss as a subject is fairly complicated. As I mentioned in the last post, I can really only share my own experiences, but I have a very scientific mind in that I am always learning and researching things (a dangerous habit on the Internet as it can suck your time away).

I wanted to answer the questions "How many deaf people are there in the US?" and "What does the deaf population distribution look like?" like before I get too far into smaller topics or just talking about myself (which a few readers have requested I do more of... and I will soon). I have reason to explore these statistics and I'll explain that below, but the gist of it is, in order to understand myself, I seem to have a curious desire to see where I fit into our bigger society. Well, at least based on numbers, and I think it will help other people to view deaf and hard-of hearing in a different context once they know the details.

Measuring Hearing Loss:

There isn't any single or simple centralized overview of hearing loss statistics and numbers for the general US population. I am looking at numbers classified as disabilities (deafness). Numbers on Deaf individuals (note the capital D) is something else entirely and involves the Deaf community (which you could call statistically an ethnic group).

Why not just check the 2010 Census? Well, because, the 2010 Census data isn't detailed enough or readily available for analysis. You can, using several different surveys, piece together a good picture, however, the definition of "deaf" can vary widely from one agency to another. The National Center for Health Statistics (part of the CDC), the U.S. Census Bureau, U.S.Department of Education, and Gallaudet University all have surveys and resources measuring various aspects of hearing loss for various reasons (mostly political and money related to be honest). Gallaudet has detailed numbers on the students within it's own schools, but that's hardly a reflection of the national situation.

I just named enough organizations to give a normal person a small headache, so I digress. Here is what you should know:

Most surveys depend on people to self report by answering a few questions. The 2000 Census just lumped hearing and vision into a single question called "sensory disability". Surveys concentrating on hearing loss will ask people to self identify and parents usually answer for their children. Most statistics deal with those 3 years and older or 5 years and older. One survey asks, "...difficulty hearing what is said in a normal conversation with another person even when wearing [his/her] hearing aid" another asks, "Which statement best describes your [or child's] hearing (without a hearing aid): good, a little trouble, a lot of trouble, or deaf?" (So which is it, are we measuring with or without a hearing aid active here?)

Results are often listed with labels such as deaf, "functionally deaf" (i.e can't comprehend a verbal conversation with or without hearing aids), profoundly deaf, hard of hearing, some trouble hearing, and "the kid I was surveying plugged their ears and stuck their tongue out at me, so I am marking temporarily deaf" (kidding).

Despite the disparities in measurements, I can confidently say the following.   

The estimated number of hearing-impaired people in North America is more than 25 million in a total population of 300 million (about 8.3% of the population). People who reported "some kind of trouble with their hearing" make up about 14% of the population.

About half of all hard-of-hearing and deaf individuals are elderly over the age of 65.
(Also, this number is increasing and is more common in men.)

There are relatively very few people in the US who are 100% or even "functionally deaf", it's about 0.18%, but under the age of 18 it's even fewer than 1 out of every 1,000.

If you include hard-of-hearing with deaf, the number jumps to 22 in every 1000 or about 0.22%

Deafness or "a lot of trouble hearing" increased dramatically with age, rising from 0.9% among adults under age 45 to 3.1% among adults aged 45-64 and 11.1% among adults aged 65 and over.

In children, one survey of ages 3-17 reported that 5 in every 1000 surveyed have "a lot of trouble hearing". Another study reports that 1 to 3 percent of all children are suffering from hearing loss and up to 14% of children 6 to 19 may have at least a slight hearing loss according to pure-tone audiometrytests, although some of the measured loss could only be temporary. (Remember for the general population that number is still closer to 8%). This is important because, "Children who are hard of hearing will find it much more difficult to learn vocabulary, grammar, word order, idiomatic expressions, and other aspects of verbal communication." I agree. 

Hearing loss will continue to increase worldwide to about 9/10th's of a Billion people by 2015.

Lets stop and turn that around and look at the opposite numbers (slightly rounded)

People with good, normal, or standard hearing by age (people who don't have a hearing loss): 
98% of children
92% of adults 18-45
80% of adults 45-65
60% of adults over 65. 

So... that's a lot of numbers. If you remember nothing else, I want you to know this. Profound hearing loss and deafness is not common. Hearing loss in children is also very small, but having some hearing loss as an adult is growing more common (protect your ears at all times) and the numbers simply go up with age as the ear wears out. Half of all hearing loss is in people 65 and over. 

How does this relate back to me?

I was diagnosed with a hearing loss as a child, when I was in 2nd grade. It is believed that I was either born with a hearing loss or lost it at a very young age. I got my first hearing aides shortly thereafter. There was a big (and legitimate) concern that I would be at a disadvantage learning language and there was great fear of my having a learning or social disability. I didn't actually have great difficulty and I made friends okay. I'll talk about that another time, what I noticed as a child though was that I was unique and these numbers affirm it.

Only 1-3% of children have a hearing loss (basically a loss bad enough to warrant hearing aides).  The numbers for deafness and sever loss are much lower (one survey mentioned 5 in 1000 kids). So if I had 30 kids in my class at school, there is a pretty good chance I would be the only one with a hearing loss. In fact in my entire primary school career, I don't distinctly remember meeting anyone in any of my classes with hearing loss until I got to college. My elementary and middle schools only ever had about 500 kids max and my high school had about 300 in each grade level. Statistically that means there would have been 2-5 kids at each school with a hearing loss similar to mine. They were just in different grades and classes I guess.

I was given many tools and opportunities to simply integrate into society as best I could and I relied heavily on hearing aides to bring my hearing up to an acceptable level of normal. For reasons I will talk about later, this only partially works. There is a Deaf community in the US, basically just a group of people who share a common language and life experience due to the way they hear and interact in the world. I was never part of this group. 

It's odd that I didn't know anyone else who was hard-of-hearing, but also it was interesting how people often tried to help me integrate. I often heard, especially at a young age that I wasn't really different in any way and that hearing loss and hearing aides are just like wearing glasses, just slightly different. I think most kids with any kind of difficulty, physical or mental, will hear this approach many times. It is said to boost your self-esteem of course, but I think adults often say it without realizing that the child knows they are different. It wasn't until recently that I gave this much thought. 

If my own kids are faced with a similar situation, I will not tell them how they are just like other people. I will share with them how they are different. How all people are different in their own way, unique, but beautiful. Dealing with what I viewed as my disability is all about learning your strengths and weaknesses and personality quirks. Acknowledging them and learning to cope, overcome, or live with it. There are things I simply can't do and I have to acknowledge that. There are going to be some people that simply struggle more than others to do some things. That's not a "failure to believe in myself and the power of positive thinking". It is a logical first step to becoming more capable. Its good advice for anyone, I believe all people have things they have to overcome and understand in themselves (popularity? genius? athleticism? anxiety? you name it). 

I just wish someone had shown me these numbers earlier (saving me the time of observational discovery  on my own). Then again, those struggles made me who I am today.

More Resources:
The Prevalence and Incidence of Hearing Loss in Adults

FAQ: Deaf Population of the United States

FAQ: Introduction to Deaf Statistics (which has some interesting links to international numbers)

How Many Deaf People Are There in the United States? Estimates From the Survey of Income and Program Participation

(Yeah, this blog post actually took about 3 times longer then it should have because I spent a few hours reading all of this.)

1 comment:

  1. I completely agree with you on what I am going to tell my children. I can't tell you how many times I was told that everyone struggles with various visual actives and that I was "normal" but the effect on me was the opposite. I felt even more isolated and felt like nobody was taking the time to listen or care. If someone would have acknowledged what I was dealing with, it would have helped tremendously. Even now, I avoid talking about my vision with most people because the first thing they say is "oh yeah, I have trouble seeing those too." I know they are trying to find common ground, but it still frustrates me.

    Interesting numbers. Having had a best friend growing up who is profoundly deaf, I assumed that it was much more common. I guess not!


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