“What? Can you say that again?” I ask.
“Did you hear what I said?” Others ask me.
A confession: I’ve found it increasingly difficult in the last several years to hear people sitting next to or across from me in noisy restaurants. My family has been telling me that I’m missing a lot of what they say. And so, I decided at last that it was time to find out definitively if I had a hearing problem.
First, I went on-line to learn what common symptoms are associated with hearing loss. I was alarmed to discover that I was experiencing many of those symptoms, including frequently asking people to repeat what they’d just said, turning up the TV and car radio volume, not understanding what’s being said in movies, theaters and public gatherings, straining to understand conversations in a group, not hearing easily what’s being said from a different room, not understanding others when I couldn’t see their faces, straining to hear some conversations altogether, not hearing ‘low-talkers’ (i.e. people who speak softly), thinking that many people mumble, and avoiding noisy environments whenever I can.
The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) estimates that one in eight people in the United States (13% – 30 million people) aged 12 years and older has hearing loss in both ears, based on standard hearing examinations. 15% of American adults (37.5 million) aged 18 and over report some trouble hearing. Men are more likely than women to report hearing loss. 2% of adults aged 45 to 54 have disabling hearing loss. The rate increases to 8.5% for adults aged 55 to 64. Nearly 25% of those aged 65 to 74 and 50% of those 75 and older have disabling hearing loss.
15% of Americans (26 million) between the ages of 20 and 69 have high frequency hearing loss due to exposure to noise at work or during leisure activities. Among adults aged 70 and older with hearing loss that could benefit from hearing aids, fewer than one in three (30%) has ever used them. Even fewer adults aged 20 to 69 (16%) who could benefit from wearing hearing aids have ever used them.
Reading all this, recognizing that there was clear evidence of my own evolving hearing disability, I decided to see an audiologist. She led me through a series of tests and, indeed, I have high frequency hearing loss. She told me that her own father, a man six years younger than me, has the same problem.
“Does he wear hearing aids?” I asked.
“Of course he does,” she said. “John – if you were my Dad you’d be wearing them too.”
She added that her father has never been happier now that he wears them because now he can easily hear everything clearly.
That did it. I ordered a pair and a week later they arrived.
My mother (z’l), and others too, used to complain to me that hearing aids didn’t work well for them, but that generation of hearing aids is already ancient history. Hearing aids have advanced dramatically over the last decade. They are now digital and connect with an app on IPhones, and are very effective.
For the past two weeks since wearing these little ear pieces (most people don’t notice that I’m wearing them because they are small and their color matches my hair color – increasingly more gray), my life has changed dramatically for the better. I can hear everything now, even sounds I didn’t know I wasn’t hearing.
My devices have three adjustable settings and I can control them either on the ear phones themselves with the push of a tiny button, or on an app on my IPhone; one setting is for normal every-day conversation; another is for restaurants with lots of ambient noise; and the third is for music. I can also listen through the hearing aid to music, news and podcasts wirelessly transmitted from my IPhone.
Above my audiologist’s desk is a powerful quote of Helen Keller: “Blindness separates people from things; deafness separates people from people.”
It’s true! I found that as my hearing worsened, I was gradually stepping away from some conversations I couldn’t hear and just sitting quietly while others conversed. I felt more disengaged, separate, apart, and frustrated. No longer!
If hearing is your problem or the problem of someone you love or someone with whom you work, get yourself tested or encourage them to get tested. If you or they have a hearing deficit, then do yourself, your family, friends and co-workers a favor – get hearing aids.
One problem – hearing aids are not (yet) covered by insurance or Medicare, so be ready to make an investment. Nevertheless, don’t be deterred. It’s worth it and you won’t be sorry.