Oklahoma hearing aid program to end wait list for first time since '09
Oklahoma City — Low-income senior citizens who have been waiting for hearing aids in Oklahoma won't have to wait much longer, after the state received a grant to help them.
The Masonic Charity Foundation provided enough for one hearing aid for the 572 people currently on the waiting list and for the next 204 qualifying seniors who apply to the Oklahoma School for the Deaf's senior hearing aid program. John Logan, president of the Masonic Charity Foundation of Oklahoma, declined to specify how much the group had given, but said senior programs are a major priority.
The foundation has donated to area agencies on aging for years, and they often use that money for hearing aids and other necessities like dentures that aren't covered by Medicare, Logan said. This year, the group decided to donate directly to the hearing aid program and to D-Dent, a charity providing false teeth, he said.
“It's a life-changing event for people to rejoin a conversation or not be afraid to smile,” he said.
Normally, the program relies on fees collected on landline phones, which have decreased as more people switch to cellphones. Traci Prince, director of student support services at the Oklahoma School for the Deaf, said some people have been on the waiting list since 2016, because the program can only fund 150 hearing aids per year.
Larry Hawkins, superintendent of the Oklahoma School for the Deaf, said the grant will clear the waiting list for the first time since 2009.
Sean Voskuhl, state director of AARP Oklahoma, said the grant is good news for seniors. About 38 million Americans have some hearing loss, but only about 20 percent use hearing aids, and cost is a major factor, he said. Hearing aids can cost more than $1,000, not counting the cost of an exam and fitting, and aren't covered by Medicare.
“Not everyone can afford to pay that out of pocket,” he said.
Untreated hearing loss raises a person's risk of social isolation and other health problems, Voskuhl said. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in November found that people with untreated hearing loss were more likely to have depression, dementia or a heart attack than people without the same problem, though it didn't prove the hearing loss caused the other illnesses.
Hearing aids are available for Oklahoma residents who are at least 60 and who have a monthly income of less than $3,568 for a couple. An audiologist determines if an applicant's hearing loss is severe enough to qualify. The program pays for one hearing aid per person, though seniors can apply again for a second one. For more information, go online to www.osd.k12.ok.us/edp/senior_hearing_aid.pdf.