Wednesday, January 21, 2015

In love - and in hate - with my hearing aids

I am now wearing hearing aids. And I love them. And I hate them.

I love the fact that I can now hear and understand my wife Jane, a low talker, in the parlance of Jerry Seinfeld.

I love that I don’t have to crank the television volume up to astounding levels that frighten women and children and animals.

I love the fact that I can better understand the soft, sweet voice of my 3-year-old granddaughter.

My dislike for the hearing aids isn't of a vain nature. First off, you can barely see them in my ears, save for the fine wire that can be easily mistaken for one of my gray hairs.

After years of being hard of hearing -- and at times being  just plain deaf -- I accepted the fact that my quality of life had to improve and that when it came to hearing, wearing these devices was the only way.

So I’m okay with wearing the hearing aids.

What drives me crazy is the occasional discomfort. I’m highly if not overly tactile. If something doesn't feel right against my skin it drives me crazy. So the fact that I have something sticking in my ear -- constantly sticking in my ear -- is frequently disconcerting. I’m told, “You’ll get used to it.”

At almost 62 years old, I’m in the sweet spot of the Baby Boomer generation. I’ll be able to collect Social Security soon and I’m among the estimated three of every 10 people over the age of 60 who have hearing loss.

For the longest time, I pushed back at the need for hearing aids. The fact that I had moderate to severe hearing loss was no surprise when audiologist Dr. Samantha explained the audiogram chart that showed all of my hearing -- no matter the frequency or decibel level - was way below what’s normal.

And my speech audiometry -- the ability to distinguish the difference between, say, “sail” and “fail” wasn't very good, especially in the left ear.

I pushed back because, frankly, I didn't want to spend the money. These suckers are expensive, mitigated only slightly by the fact that my insurance will kick in $1,500. Most health insurance plans don’t cover anything when it comes to hearing aids.

But this became too important of a quality of life issue for me as I get older. I consider this an investment in my current and future emotional and mental health.

It’s true that hearing loss can have an effect on someone’s overall well being. I saw it happening to me. As understanding conversation became more difficult, particularly at a party or around a crowded dinner table or at a restaurant, it became more and more difficult to be a part of the conversation. The brain, working as a muscle, just tired from the work of trying to understand and interpret what was being said in that jumble of noise. So you withdraw, just a little, then a little more.

Older adults with hearing loss are more likely than peers with normal hearing to require hospitalization and suffer from periods of inactivity and depression, according to a study at Johns Hopkins.

So now I’m in control again, helped my hearing aids that I can adjust through a smartphone app. I can take a phone call directly into my hearing aids, for example.

Dr. Samantha is bringing me along carefully, methodically. When fitted with the hearing aids she didn't give me the full 100 percent of hearing. It would be too overwhelming, she said. And she’s right. All that sound -- even the sound of my fingers on the keyboard -- can be overwhelming at times.

My health is important to me. For my sake and in particular for the people I love, I want to stay in good physical, emotional and mental health. Hearings aids have become part of what I've decided to invest in myself to make that happen.

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