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The National Hearing Test


Many of us confront the uncertainty of not knowing if we have hearing loss. This issue often comes up when loved ones suggest that we do. Well, now you can find out if you are hearing-impaired, in the privacy of your own home. The National Hearing Test, a not-for-profit organization, will screen you over the phone in less than 10 minutes. Truth be told, this test should be free and funded by the government. But given our dysfunctional Congress and its inability to do anything worthwhile, the not-for-profit National Hearing Test costs $5 to use.

What is this organization and its objective? The test was originally developed in 2004, in the Netherlands, so that people could call in and find out if they had hearing loss. Because the test is anonymous, it has yielded much information about the onset of age-related hearing loss. In 2008 scientists from Indiana University and from Communication Disorders Technology, Inc., met with researchers from the Netherlands and adapted the test to the United States. Other countries (such as the United Kingdom, Denmark, France, Germany, Poland, Switzerland, Spain, and Australia) have developed and introduced their own versions of the test. In this country, it was validated with assistance from the Department of Veterans Affairs and funded by The National Institute on Deafness and other Communication Disorders, a branch of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

How does the test work? You take it over a telephone (preferably a landline) in less than 10 minutes. The test uses a series of numbers in three-digit sequences and then you use the keypad to enter what you heard. It is conducted with background noise designed to simulate difficult-to-hear situations. Immediately after the test, you learn the results for each ear—normal hearing, a slight loss, or a substantial one.

What’s the point? The test is for screening, as distinct from a full audiology or medical exam. It will save you money if you turn out to have no hearing issues and may save your life if you do. How? We now know that hearing-impaired people have a higher mortality rate, as well as increased cognitive issues, if the problem isn’t treated. Current research indicates that when people do not correct for hearing loss, they fail to pick up environmental sound cues that help the brain react and adjust to dangers. Also, we have a growing body of evidence indicating that not treating hearing loss accelerates the decline of mental function.

There is a distinct advantage to taking this simple test and finding out the level of your hearing health in the privacy and comfort of your own home. Given the high cost of almost anything medical, this is a bargain-priced way to learn if you should do more about your hearing.