Hearing is very important to connect us to our social and work communities. Helen Keller once observed that while blindness separates people from things, deafness separates people from people.

Hearing loss is the third most common chronic physical condition in the United States, more common than diabetes or cancer. The changes in hearing that affect millions of Americans each year are more than just the volume you need to enjoy watching TV. There is growing evidence that untreated hearing loss may be related to cognitive decline.

Despite experiencing less enjoyment in life due to difficulty hearing, hearing loss often goes untreated or treatment is delayed for years. Why do people choose to wait to seek appropriate treatment or sacrifice high-quality care for such an important sense?

1. Hearing loss is invisible

The most common type of hearing loss, sensorineural hearing loss, often results from exposure to loud sounds, medications, genetics, or aging, which cause tiny cells in the inner ear stop functioning. The change may not be immediately noticeable, although tinnitus (ringing in the ear), is often a sign that these cells have been irreparably damaged.

2. Hearing loss happens gradually

If you can’t hear a sound, you probably won’t realize you’re missing it. Occasionally, hearing loss occurs suddenly, but it more commonly develops gradually over time often impacting hearing high pitch sounds, such as (“S”, “T”, etc.). As a result, it may sound like people are mumbling.

3. Hearing loss is associated with age

Frequently, people delay seeking help for hearing loss because they think it is not serious enough to demand attention or is normal for their age or are hesitant to use hearing aids. In reality, hearing loss can affect all ages and there is no “normal” amount of hearing loss. Although hearing loss is more common in older adults, if untreated even mild hearing loss at any age will reduce safety and quality of life.

4. Treating hearing loss may seem expensive

Hearing aids are often not covered by insurance, and never covered by Medicare. As a result, the cost of hearing aids tends to be out of pocket. However, the return on the investment in your hearing can be huge. A recent study suggests that using appropriately fit hearing aids improved quality of life for 96 percent of users with even mild to moderate hearing loss.