Toy manufacturing giant Mattel recently rolled out a Barbie doll that wears behind-the-ear hearing aids, one of several new additions to its “Fashionistas” line that includes figurines with a wide range of medical conditions and disabilities.
“This is an important milestone for the 30 million Americans who are hearing-impaired, two-thirds of whom don’t wear or haven’t used a hearing aid,” said Gary Josephson, MD, a pediatric otolaryngologist (ENT) with Wolfson Children’s Hospital and chief medical officer at Nemours Children’s Health, Jacksonville. “By introducing this doll, Mattel is emphasizing that getting a hearing aid is socially acceptable and not something to avoid.”
Hearing impairment is a condition in which people can still hear but have some degree of hearing loss. It's on track to increase in the U.S. in the coming years, in part due to the number of associated risk factors, such as age, sex, race and genetic predispositions. Dr. Josephson said an estimated 40 million Americans are expected to be hearing impaired by 2025 and 67 million by 2050, according to projections from the Journal of the American Medical Association-Otolaryngology.
“Using a hearing aid is associated with a variety of prejudices, so people often don’t wear them, even when it would improve their quality of life, relationships and experience in school,” Dr. Josephson said. “This can lead to speech delay in childhood and social isolation, which can be particularly devastating for both children and adults.”
As these numbers rise, it’s important to ensure acceptance of hearing aids grows with them. Good hearing health and the ability to hear in both ears are critical for a better quality and happier life.
Dr. Josephson hopes more companies will follow in Mattel’s footsteps, and in turn that more children, teens and adults who need hearing aids will take advantage of the life-changing technology.
“We need to get hearing aids to the point where they are treated like glasses – a functional accessory and even a fashion statement,” he said.
Wolfson Children’s Hospital provides state-of-the-art pediatric otolaryngology (ear, nose and throat) services in collaboration with Nemours Children’s Health, Jacksonville. To make an appointment, call 904.697.3600.