The stigma of hearing aids
THE WASHINGTON POST – At 45, I needed reading glasses. I have them.
At 52, distance lenses. Same. At 56, I had switched to progressives, which incorporates distance and reading, and all I remember thinking was, “Wow, that’s expensive. “
Not once did I hesitate to have glasses because my vision started to deteriorate. If and when do I need hearing aids? Well, that’s another matter.
Jennifer Finney Boylan, an English professor at Barnard College, summed up the dilemma in a column she wrote several years ago for The New York Times: “Why, I wonder, are the devices for you? keep you from being blind are celebrated as fashion, but devices to keep you from being deaf are embarrassing and uncool? Why does the biggest compliment someone can give you on your hearing aids is “I can barely see them”? “
Hear hear! Professor Boylan.
I think my hearing is pretty good. However, I am aware that today I prefer certain restaurants, which, I readily admit, have more to do with the decibel level than the Michelin stars.
And I love that there is now a “Yelp for Noise” (an app called SoundPrint) that helps you find the quietest bars and restaurants in your town.
Friends who are hard of hearing have many tips for dining out, which I have started doing now that I am fully immunized.
“To hear better, sit facing a wall rather than facing the outside.” Another suggests that I “pass a table in favor of a booth because their fabric cushions and high backs can create a little bubble of relative calm in the middle of the racket.”
Finally, this: “Pick a table furthest from the kitchen, especially if it’s an open-plan restaurant.”
I realize that some of their suggestions may be helpful to me as well, as a thought crosses my brain: “I wonder if my hearing is not what it used to be. I wonder if I should get it checked out.
We have so many reasons not to use hearing aids: they are uncomfortable. They are ugly. They hiss. They hurt. They don’t work in a large crowd. They are expensive. Mostly, as Boylan wrote, “I thought it would make me look old and unwanted. “
Or as a friend, who bought his first pair at age 50, explained: “Yes, I felt that [the devices] would carry a stigma. But I was starting to feel the opposite stigma, of the person who had to keep asking others to repeat themselves, or sometimes completely messing up and falling out of conversations. It resonated with me.
During the last chapter of my father’s life, he would often shout at me, “Turn up your sound! No one in our family – or in their world – has been spared by this fix.
For dad, a former TV producer, that order meant we weren’t talking loud enough. (At the time, I was in the control room with daddy and he was barking the same phrase at his anchors.)
If it was to be believed, his wife, three grown children, and their spouses were monotonous mumblers. It was us, not him. To be heard, you had to shout.
I know dad hated the idea of using a hearing aid because he told me to. He also pointed out that the “beige bananas” worn by his mother – our grandmother – marked a person as “deaf, daffy and old”.
Grandma was none of these, she worked as a librarian until she was 70 and frequently went to the theater in New York as an octogenarian.
But she was wearing a hearing aid that looked like a mutant insect resting behind her ear.
Even when I explained to Dad that the latest digital hearing aids are virtually invisible (like the Mini-Behind-the-Ear-Hearing-Aid and Completely-in-the-Canal versions), he still wasn’t listening. Or maybe he just didn’t hear me.
Dad was not alone. More than 48 million Americans have hearing loss, and a third of those 65 to 74 and half of those 75 and over need – but don’t use – a hearing aid, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. . Denial is one barrier – the cost is another.
The price of a prescription hearing aid can range from $ 1,500 to a few thousand dollars – expensive! – according to its style and characteristics, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Unfortunately, Medicare and most private insurance plans do not cover the expenses.
Fortunately, the Food and Drug Administration recently proposed regulations that would allow consumers to purchase over-the-counter hearing aids, which likely won’t require a prescription or eye exam, and are much cheaper.
There are also other costs to consider. Hearing loss can increase the risk of depression and social isolation. Experts say some people with hearing loss may feel uncomfortable and withdraw from socializing. Dad also matched this profile. Hearing loss can be very isolating and affect relationships with family and friends.
Thrifty is a word I would have used to describe my grandmother. Despite the cost, she realized she needed to buy a pair of hearing aids, and I remember the day she made her decision. It was such an important experience that I wrote an entire journal entry about it.
As she often did, Grandma, then 72, had taken me to the theater for a morning – in this case, a production of Bent. It starred a young Richard Gere.
Because nothing was too good for her “number one grandson,” as she called me constantly, and because she knew she had trouble hearing, we had a front row seat.
Unfortunately, this theater did not have any of the now common “listening aids” for audience members who might need them, which meant that Granny had difficulty hearing the dialogue.
She started nudging me, whispering to me as hard of hearing often do: loud. “What did he say?” In a low voice, I filled it.
At each turn, Grandma nudged me and asked, not in a low voice, “What are they saying? “What are they saying?” “WHAT ARE THEY SAYING?”
“Shhh! I’ll tell you later, Grandma.
The next time we went to a show, she was sporting her banana boats. Lesson learned for grandmother.
My friend Daniel, in his early sixties, also learned this lesson – and got his hearing aids – after his wife, Laura, told him point blank, “You don’t hear me and you check a lot when. you can. ”I can’t hear.
He must have heard it because he told me over the phone shortly after deciding to wear hearing aids.
Once he started using them Daniel described “a remarkable change”.
He noted that he could hear birds, leaves and cicadas.
“Even Laura.” He then understood that “we miss the things that are missing from you. Sometimes you can say that someone told you something that you don’t quite understand, but in many cases you don’t even know you are missing something ”.
Hopefully I won’t lose my hearing like my dad and grandmother did (even though the genetic makeup is not good).
Recently I decided it was time to see the audiologist: a slight hearing loss in my right ear, which may be the reason why I try to sit with my left ear towards my interlocutor.
So far it seems to be working. But if it gets worse, I’ll buy the audio boost I need.
I am fully aware that not hearing what is going on around me screams “I’m old” much more than wearing a hearing aid.