Not many people know it, (and now everyone will), but I occasionally wear hearing aids.
Not for everyday use, but for when I am in a crowded situation where people have to talk and listen to each other.
I got my hearing aids about two years before I retired, and I’ve been retired a little over three years now.
Why Hearing Aids
I noticed that I struggled to hear everyone, especially in a meeting with 15 to 25 people sitting around a large table or in a noisy restaurant. It was imperative at the time that I be able to hear the conversations in order to respond, in order to do my job; but I was losing that ability.
Since then I’ve learned that anyone older than 45 has a one in five chance of suffering some degree of hearing loss. That increases to one in three by the age of 65. By 75, it is one in two. All of this is according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.
I finally went to see an audiologist to have my hearing checked. She put me in a booth and asked if I could hear an entire range of frequencies. Finally, I was fitted for a pair of hearing aids, and my hearing aids were ordered.
I learned that my hearing loss was in both ears, although my right one is worse than the left.
Two Types of Hearing Loss
Most hearing loss is sensorineural or caused by damage to the tiny hair cells that line our inner ears. These cells convert sound waves into electrical signals for our brains to decipher into meaningful sounds.
Aging plays an important role, but so could exposure to loud noises. Other reasons can be medications, illnesses, and a family history of hearing loss.
My Grandfather Gillespie lost his hearing as a child due to a childhood disease. All he could hear using hearing aids was vibrations. He used them and lip reading to understand us.
Sensorineural hearing loss is usually not reversible, but using hearing aids can help by selectively amplifying sounds. My hearing loss falls in this category. I shot guns for most of my life, first hunting with my father and later being a part of a Trap and Skeet League for competition.
We were encouraged to wear hearing protection, and required to do so during training and competition; but being young, immortal, and basically stupid, I ditched the requirement as soon as I was away from the referees. I shot a shotgun right handed and my biggest hearing loss is in my left ear, which is normal for a right-handed shooter.
I also loved my rock and roll loud. And I think you get the point.
The other type of hearing loss is conductive. It occurs as a result of a physical blockage or malformation of the middle or outer ear. Something like impacted earwax or a fluid buildup from infection can block sound from reaching the inner ear. Most of the time this type of hearing loss is reversible.
Is Sensorineural Hearing Loss Reversible
The answer is no. I found out that once the hair cells in my inner ear were dead, there was no bringing them back. My hearing aids were fine-tuned to match my specific hearing-loss. I did not pay, though to have them syned wirelessly with my smartphone. They were expensive enough without this feature.
Mine is a mini-behind-the-ear model. It has a receiver in the ear canal. It attaches to the ear via a thin wire and an earmold or piece of soft material made to fit snugly in the ear and to channel sound. I find it comfortable and barely visible even with my short hair.
The only drawback is that wax buildup does occur on the earmold. I simply remove most of it with my fingers. This type of hearing device works best with my problems for hearing higher frequencies. The earpiece allows some sound in, which is good because I do not need help hearing the lower frequencies. Thankfully, I must have not turned the bass up on my car radio.
Buying Hearing Aids
Most insurance does not cover hearing aids. In the US Medicare Advantage, though, may cover them.
My aids came with a contract that allowed me to return them and get most of my money back if I was not satisfied. Ask about economy hearing aids and ask your provider to compare your performance on speech-in-noise tests using both a premium aid and an economy aid. Also ask your provider to check if your health insurance policy will pay. Some of you may even have a homeowner’s policy that will pay. Check yours.
See if your audiologist carries more than a few brands. It won’t hurt to ask for a lower-priced model. You can also ask for a price break by negotiating a lower price.
Costco offers free screenings at select locations, and their prices are competitive. Did you know that 16 percent of all Americans buy their hearing aids from Costco? Certain Costco stores have an on-site audiologist or hearing specialist.
Buying aids online can help you save, too. I didn’t go this route, though, because I wondered how the adjustment phase would go. I also wondered if I would have to find a local hearing specialist to help me.
There are organizations that may offer help–governmental, state or independent groups like the Lions Club.
Finally, it is possible that the US Congress may help. According to a New York Times article Congress is considering an “over the counter” option. It reads, “That, at least, represents the future envisioned by supporters of the Over-the-Counter Hearing Aid Act of 2017, which would give the Food and Drug Administration three years to create a regulatory category for such devices and to establish standards for safety, effectiveness and labeling.” If this passes, the marketplace should kick in and prices could drop as low as say $300 per ear.
How Often Do I Wear Mine?
Now that I’m retired, I don’t use my hearing aids as often; but they stay in my purse, waiting for when I do need them. Normally, I get them out in noisy restaurants or when a person’s voice is at a frequency that I can’t hear well. I’ve gotten really quick at inserting them. I do it publicly and most people don’t notice; or if they do, they do not inquire.
I am also super careful about my hearing now. I don’t wear my hearing aids to concerts or to watch TV. For concerts, I wear good quality ear plugs. Guess what? They play the music so loud that I can hear them just fine. Amazing! I also make sure I wear protection when I work with firearms, as I still do from time to time.
Here’s what I’ve noticed most about wearing my hearing aids. I get a lot of background noise that I’m not used to hearing. It’s amazing what sounds I pick up that I never noticed I lost. With my type of hearing loss it is the metallic sounds that I no longer hear well.
Also, if all the noise in a room is coming from one side, I only put a hearing aid in the other ear. I find that I can hear people better that way. Most hearing aids cannot completely remove background noise and allow you to hear people selectively. I guess you can surmise that using hearing aids is different for everyone.
Love the Quietness of Growing Old
There’s actually a positive side to hearing loss. My own has created an atmosphere that is overall quieter. I have to admit that I’m more comfortable without my hearing aids, but like the other day when I was at lunch with a table full of former lobbyists, I quickly realized I was having trouble understanding people so I got them out and inserted them in my ears. I could hear everyone just fine.
In closing there is a Hearing Aid Buying Guide that I found helpful. You can find it here. Good old ‘Consumer Reports’does it again. I’ve turned to them for help with all manner of our purchases.