Hearing aids won’t work if not worn

Why many people are so slow to embrace them


By Ernie Williamson The Bulletin


As hard as he tried, my dad couldn’t cover up his hearing loss.


Sure, he might smile or nod his head when we spoke, but we knew he was often guessing at the words. We finally convinced him to buy hearing aids. Dad, however, resisted wearing them.


I tell you all this because you probably think, based on my experience with my dad, that I would quickly admit to a hearing loss if I had problems.


I didn’t.


Even though the military told me in my early 20s that I had hearing loss, I didn’t purchase my first hearing aids until I was in my 60s.


Looking back at those years before buying hearing aids, I realize now how much I had given up.


I was no longer able to enjoy songs because I couldn’t make out the lyrics.


I struggled hearing the words at live theater performances and in movies.


And I felt left out of conversations in crowded restaurants.


Finally, I was spurred into buying those first hearing aids because I could no longer clearly hear women’s voices. That is a problem for a guy with a wife, daughter and granddaughters.


So, I invested more than $4,000 in hearing aids. But like father, like son, I didn’t wear them as much as I should have.


A typical no-hearing-aid conversation with my wife would go something like this:


Wife: Did you hear the news?


Me: What did you say?


Wife: Did you hear the news?


Me: What?


Wife: Do you have your hearing aids in?


Me. What?


I made excuses when asked why I wasn’t wearing them.


I didn’t wear them in the morning because I was afraid I would forget and wear them in the shower.


I didn’t wear them in the afternoon because I was fearful of losing my investment during therapy for my unrelated paraplegia.


And who needs them at night watching television. What’s closed captioning for?


The pandemic gave me another excuse. I was afraid to wear them because they would get entangled with the straps on my mask and fall out.


All this sound crazy? Or familiar?


It turns I am not alone in my reaction to hearing loss.


It is estimated 40 percent of seniors aged 55 to 74 have age-related hearing loss, but as few as 20 percent of those people wear hearing aids.


Research shows that on average people struggle for 10 years before finally purchasing hearing aids.


Not surprisingly, men are less likely to wear them.


All this reluctance to wear hearing aids exists despite the fact there is mounting evidence that hearing loss can contribute to cognitive decline.


There are numerous explanations for why people are slow to embrace hearing aids.


Some of it is vanity, and some of it is not wanting to admit growing old. Some people don’t want to show they have a disability.


Others think hearing aids don’t provide enough benefit to justify the cost.


For those, help may be on the way.


The FDA is working to finalize a rule that would make it easier for many adults to get hearing aids, a policy change five years in the making.


The change comes after Congress passed a 2017 law requesting a regulation for selling over-the-counter devices.


The FDA has long required that patients get a prescription for a hearing aid, which can be expensive or time-consuming.


The regulation would change that for people with mild to moderate hearing loss.


The new regulation won’t come in time to help me. My first pair of hearing aids quit working so I needed new ones.


Another hearing test found I now have moderate to severe hearing loss (“profound” is the worst). The hearing specialist recommended some $1,800 devices.


Given my history with hearing aids, I debated whether it was worth spending the money.


Then my wife chimed in loud and clear.


I am getting them.


(Ernie Williamson welcomes reader input. Please contact Ernie at williamsonernie@gmail.com. Or, send letters in care of The Bulletin, PO Box 2426, Angleton, TX. 77516)