Hearing Aids: Much Ado About Nothing
True confession time: I have started to wear hearing aids. It’s been a journey of denial, fear, and depression, with a little worry about stigma thrown in for good measure. But ultimately, here I am, hearing again, which is quite amazing! And this is what I have to say about the long journey to get here – it was much ado about nothing!
Here’s my story…
After a decades-long hiatus in my yoga practice, I attended a class recently. The hour of exercise was quite taxing – not to my body, but to my hearing! Between the soft music in the background, the teacher’s calm voice, and the fact that when she was in downward dog she was talking to the floor instead of to the class, I couldn’t hear much. I chalked it up to that teacher and to that yoga studio. But then I tried several more teachers and studios with the same result.
Before long, I remembered that I hear people VERY clearly when I use AirPods with my cell phone, and wondered if that technology could help in the yoga studio. Googling “using AirPods as a hearing device,” I came up with an article in SeniorLiving.org that explained “Live Listen” and told me exactly how to do that. I was excited!
But here we go again. Before long, it was only natural to wonder if Live Listen could be used to hear better in other situations – like having dinner with grandkids. Then I considered the various situations where hearing better might be nice, until I finally faced facts: There were lots of situations where I had trouble hearing. It was time for hearing aids.
After an audiologist confirmed this concept, I would like to say I eagerly moved forward with the plan. Instead, I spent a day on the sofa feeling sorry for myself and feeling ancient. I would have remained there for a few more days except my daughters hauled me off the sofa, took me for a walk, and gave me a pep talk the next day. Long story short: It is now my task to be the poster person for wearing hearing aids with grace. It is my task to dispel any stigma.
A friend who is a speech pathologist with experience in communication disorders catapulted my interest in hearing aids (yes, she wears them) when she suggested I research this horrifying topic: hearing loss and cognitive decline. Here’s what the Hearing Health Foundation has to say:
- Those with mild hearing impairment (unable to hear a whisper) are twice as likely to develop dementia.
- For moderate hearing loss (unable to hear talking), there is a three-fold increase.
- For those with severe impairment (unable to hear a doorbell), there is five-fold increase.
A study from Johns Hopkins says it is estimated that 8% of new dementia cases – 800,000 per year – are caused by hearing loss and offers three possible reasons why:
- Hearing loss makes the brain work harder to hear and to fill in the gaps at the expense of other thinking and memory systems.
- Hearing loss causes the brain to shrink more quickly.
- Hearing loss leads people to be less socially engaged, and therefore, less intellectually stimulated.
If dodging dementia is not enough, both of these articles tell us that hearing is important for balance and that hearing loss makes us more likely to fall. The Center for Disease Control chimes in with these numbers about the risks of falling: Older adults report 36 million falls each year, and 32,000 of these falls result in death.
Armed with these facts, I tried a set of hearing aids for two weeks and then ordered a pair. I will admit that like using reading glasses, hearing aids are not a perfect fix. As my Auntillie told me long ago when she got hearing aids, flushing the toilet sounds like Niagara Falls. And when my granddaughter – who was sitting next to me at the dinner table – speared a crouton with her fork, the crouton virtually screamed. And of course, there are still little grandgirls with teeny tiny voices.
But then, I was out to dinner with four lady friends. I could hear all of them except one. I thought to myself, “If I could just reach out and turn up the volume knob on Fran’s mouth…” A split second later, I realized I could use the hearing aid app on my phone to do just that – virtually speaking. No social isolation for me, I then heard every word she said.
I am the first to admit I worry about the stigma of wearing hearing aids. There is an overall alteration in my self-perception, plus worries about what others will think. Am I less attractive? Will a greater amount of ageism now impact me? But these worries are ridiculously small as compared to the amazing fact that I can now hear the Frans of the world again, not to mention the yoga instructors!
According to the Johns Hopkins report, 27 million Americans age 50 and over have hearing loss. Only one in seven uses a hearing aid. I’m thinking I’m a smart cookie for seeking help with my problem. Hmmm… Talk about an alteration in self-perception!
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