That humorous sign of old age is a frustrating fact to the approximately one in three people age 65 to 74 who have hearing loss—and even more maddening to the people who talk to them.
“Woo Hoo!” and “Yaaayyyyyyy” were my sons’ elated electronic replies to my “good news and bad news” email this week. Good that I finally got hearing aids; bad that I used some of their inheritance to pay for them.
Finally is key here. I didn’t make it to 70 without them, but still I waited years—probably decades—too long.
“You’ll know when you’re ready,” an audiologist predicted three years ago, explaining that my own and others’ frustration would reach the level that would make me act.
Frankly, I already knew. The catalyst was a request my oldest son made of my boyfriend the night before we left from a recent visit with his family: “ … and please, the next time I see you, make sure she has hearing aids.”
That plea did not surprise me after having heard (barely), “Mom, it’s time,” from both of my sons on numerous visits. Even my grandkids know to shout from the backseat if I am driving.
Honestly, I understand my family’s and friends’ frustration, having experienced the same thing with my mother. How I hated hearing her TV blaring from the sidewalk, hated having to repeat everything, hated clarifying her ridiculous and inappropriate responses to what she thought she heard. I yelled, “Mom, I can’t stand it anymore,” too. Then she got hearing aids. What a blessing they were … to all of us.
So, I wonder, why did I delay? Vanity? Denial? Cost? Getting around to it?
All of the above.
Plus getting by.
One-on-one and in small groups, I could hold my own pretty well. More and more, my input consisted of “What?” and “Huh?” I didn’t think I was reading lips, but I was. I thought I was getting by, but I wasn’t.
I wasn’t alone. According to a 2012 study led by Johns Hopkins researchers, of an estimated 26.7 million Americans age 50 and older who have hearing loss, about one in seven uses a hearing aid.
While heredity and aging play big roles in hearing loss, experts agree that people are losing hearing earlier because of noise, particularly loud music, workplaces and recreational equipment. Although many of my peers in their 60s claim to still have acute hearing, many others either have aids or struggle to hear.
Sure, signs of my hearing loss were there for years: trouble hearing over background noise, straining to follow conversations, turning up volumes on TVs and radios … But often it’s not that we can’t hear; it’s that we can’t comprehend. Because we lose the ability to hear certain pitches—usually the highest, such as women’s voices—words sound garbled. Lately, even watching movies was challenging, trying to decipher plots while missing lines. If I couldn’t make out some of Angelina Jolie’s Maleficent lines that blasted from the sophisticated sound system of an IMAX screen right in my face, I am more deaf than I realized.
The World of Sound
So now that I have my amazing new hearing aids, I’m embarrassed for waiting so long. And remorseful. Not only are they barely visible, my whole world seems to have a new dimension.
And I have new responsibilities.
– My computer keyboard clicks when I type.
– The brake pedal in my car squeaks.
– A toilet flushing sounds like Niagara Falls.
– My normal TV volume setting is really loud.
– My alarm system beeps when I open the door.
– Barefoot shuffling on hardwood floors is annoying.
– EVERYBODY SHOUTS.