According to federal estimates, approximately 37.5 million Americans aged 18 and over report some trouble hearing. That’s about 15 percent of the adult population. Of those, only about one in six have ever used hearing aids.
You can now add me to the tally in both categories.
Last week, with Lori’s gentle urging, I went to have my hearing tested. The results confirmed what she suspected and what I resisted: mild-to-moderate hearing loss, primarily with lower tones and somewhat more acute in the right ear.
A few days later, I went back to pick up my newest fashion accessories: a pair of beige electronic aids designed to fit discreetly behind the ears. I’m going back next week to exchange them for some gray-colored ones, the better to blend in with my hair. No harm in being inconspicuous if I’ve already made the more important decision to get them in the first place.
As a male who’s growing older, I suppose it was inevitable that I’d need hearing aids at some point. After all, the research shows that:
(1) Age is the strongest predictor of hearing loss among adults aged 20 to 69, with the greatest amount of hearing loss in the 60-to-69 age group.
(2) Men are almost twice as likely as women to have hearing loss among adults aged 20 to 69.
The hearing aids are extremely lightweight and they’ve made an immediate difference. When the audiology technician crinkled an empty plastic water bottle at her desk, I nearly jumped out of my chair.
But that’s the point, right? To turn up the volume on life itself.
In the few days I’ve been wearing my little helpers, I’m hearing things with a clarity I hadn’t noticed before, such as the sound of my slippers on wooden stairs or the clickety-clack of the keyboard I’m using to write this blog post.
I can’t say I’ve noticed a big difference yet in watching television or a movie. But I’m hearing conversations much better — and that’s the biggest improvement.
On Thursday, a professor friend and I had lunch at a popular restaurant. Normally, I would have leaned across the table and asked her to repeat herself several times. This time, I noticed, I heard at least 95% of what she said, even above the noise of background conversation.
On Friday, I forgot to wear the aids. As a result, I struggled to hear one soft-spoken student during a discussion I had with six Communications interns at Portland State. Even with the door closed in a small room, it was hard to pick up some of what she was saying.
Now that I’ve got them, I’ve got to establish the habit of wearing the hearing aids every day. Shouldn’t be a problem. In short order, I imagine they will be as indispensable to me as my glasses.
Admittedly, I balked at going in for the initial exam. I’d always associated hearing aids as a tangible, and unwanted, marker of growing older. You hit a certain age and you’re eligible for discounted bus fares and movie tickets. Another couple years and you find yourself eligible for Medicare and Social Security. What’s next? A cane or a walker?
I exaggerate, but the reality is I am growing older.
The way I look at it — again, with Lori’s counsel — I’m investing in my health. Failing to treat hearing loss is really no different than ignoring dental health or overall physical health. Put off going to the dentist or the gym and you’ll pay for it.
Invest in hearing aids and the biggest benefit just may be a reduction in the frustration felt by your spouse, who no longer has to repeat herself as frequently to make herself heard or understood. I hear that’s good for the relationship. Pun intended.
More information: Quick Statistics About Hearing from National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders