“You can’t hear.”
“What?” He says.
“You can’t hear,” I repeat in a louder voice.
“Yes, I can,” he says in a tone that indicates he knows that I know that he knows he can’t hear; but, intends to do nothing about it.
Thus goes many a conversation between my husband and me. To no avail. He has not scheduled an audio test.
Who am I to talk? I can’t hear well either, and most likely, you’ve lost some hearing, too. According to the nonprofit Hearing Health Foundation, the number of Americans with hearing loss doubled between the year 2000 and 2015—to 48 million people. Back in 2004, an EAR Foundation and Clarity study of baby boomers revealed that a whopping half already had some degree of hearing loss, including 38 million people between the ages of 40 and 59, so this is not just the old-old.
Alas, we were and are doing precious little about it. Only about one in three people even get their ears tested.
You know that loud parties ruined your hearing, right? Noise is a big factor in hearing loss. Drugs and chemicals contribute as well. This is called “ototoxicity.” Smoking and diabetes are also related to hearing loss.
Whatever the cause, the reason is damage to the hair cells of the ear and/or nerves in the cochlea. Some hearing loss is inevitable over time…it is normal. So, stop hiding it, because, like with a comb-over, everyone knows anyway.
So why is hearing loss so taboo? Blame it on the image. While you can see myriad beauties strutting their eyeglasses, you can’t see anyone showing off their new designer hearing aid. On the contrary, the irascible curmudgeon with the gravelly voice or the witch-like timber is the image of the hard of hearing.
You might as well use an ear trumpet instead of a tiny hearing aid…or at least that what your ego tells you. But, what if they were trendy? Everyone would want a pair.
Attention hearing aid designers: Stop making them smaller. That only affirms that they are unsightly and need hiding. Go big, like Iris Apfel’s glasses. Give us some advanced style. Consider hearing aids that are bright pink with an embedded rhinestone. Or make affinity aides with a picture of our favorite sports team, band or alma mater. Credit card companies do that, and it’s a hit.
You may think I’m kidding, but, I’m not. Commissioner Janet Sainer, when she was running New York City’s Department for the Aging, taught me all I need to know about the “mature” market: “All babies are the same,” she said. “All seniors are different.”
Hearing aids are too homogenous. Give them pizzazz. How about a Build-An-Aid store, like Build-A-Bear but with louder sales clerks? It’s all about the experience.
Unfortunately, once you decide to act, the cost may divert you. Of course, Medicare and even the Medicare supplements don’t pay for hearing aids. The average cost is well over $2000, if you can get away that cheap. “Sure,” you’re thinking. “If I could buy hearing aids three in a pack for 10 bucks, the way I can buy reading glasses, I would have them.” But, you can’t.
Let’s solve the cost problem. The solution is so simple I can’t believe I’m the first to think of it: advertising. Imagine what Nike or Coca Cola would pay for their logo on your hearing aid and millions of others? I can see Walt Disney now, smiling at the connection between your ears and Mickey’s iconic logo…a natural.
But, don’t wait for anyone else to find a solution. Protect your ears from noise, yes. Give “hearing health” special attention if you are diabetic. Use hearing loss as another reason to stop smoking. Don’t be daunted about the idea of choosing one…and go help a loved one who can’t hear get with the program, too. And for heaven’s sake, get tested and use an aid if you need one.
I SAID, USE AN AID IF YOU NEED ONE.
Post Script: Fran’s Story. Fran is a super-ager. That’s anyone over the age of 90 who truly knows how to age well. She owns the home where I meditate with a group most Friday mornings. Our leader reads a piece from a Buddhist text, and the group discusses it before we go into our individual practices. This has been going on for years.
Last week, Fran held a meeting. She revealed that her hearing is bad despite every medical effort. Her geriatrician told her that after 90—Fran is 94—it takes more energy to listen than when you are younger. After our morning discussion, she is tired all day from the concentration it takes to follow our rapid and often simultaneous words.
Without Fran putting her hearing issues on the table, she would suffer, and we would go on blabbering. Instead, we now each briefly respond to the Buddhist quote in a slow and thoughtful way. It’s a better introduction to our meditation, and Fran can keep up. Everyone wins.
Regardless of your age, you can be a super-ager. Acknowledge your deficiencies, share them and help others come up with a solution. It’s part of you knowing your worth as you age. Start with your hearing. If you can’t hear, you can’t share. The world needs to hear you and you need to hear it. Make it happen.