My audiologist and I have been watching my hearing test results closely for more than ten years now. They are starting to look not so pretty.
No surprise. My mother and grandfather both suffered from hearing loss. Throughout the seventies I attended more than my fair share of very loud rock ‘n roll concerts, occasions where I’d flash my press badge and end up standing excitingly close to the stage and those huge, pulsating speakers. I have always relished settling in with a new album or CD in a comfy chair with headsets on, new music happily blaring away. And, oh yes, I am over fifty. Every year after fifty, we lose one-half of one percent of our hearing.
Throw in noise pollution, which has increased by leaps and bounds over the past few decades, and, well, here we are.
So when I got the news that my numbers have now officially dipped into the “hearing aid zone” I marched bravely into the office to try one on. Nowadays, they call it “test driving” – that is, you can be fitted for a device and see what you think, or maybe I should say hear. After four weeks, if you hate it, you can return it.
The industry probably couldn’t wait for baby boomers to hit this phase of life. No longer are the products bulky and unattractive. Now they come in small sizes, trendy shapes and all sorts of sexy colors. In fact, thanks to the age of IPODS and ear buds, some people who don’t even HAVE a hearing loss are opting for these things because they actually can make life a little easier. The one I’m trying out, for example, can be hooked up to a bluetooth phone, meaning that I wouldn’t need to actually pick up the phone when it rings – just push a button on the little IPOD looking device I’d wear on my person somewhere, and I could have a conversation right through my hearing device. Once televisions become bluetooth accessible, the same will be true there. The sound system would be fed directly to my cute, colorful, and don’t-you-wish-YOU-had-one hearing device!
And the advances in digital technologies mean these puppies can now do much more than simply amplify sound. Directional microphones can be fine tuned to zero in on specific frequencies coming from specific directions, or to cancel persistent background noise such as fans or traffic. There’s even a model that allows you to replay the last ten seconds of conversation, just in case you missed someone’s name. As I said, not your grandmother’s hearing aid.
Apparently, it’s cool now to wear a hearing aid. Who knew? Just as coke bottle glasses have been transformed into glam, stylin’ fashion accessories, the type that everyone wants to have on their face, hearing aids will soon be the next “have to have” item. Some are being made to resemble earrings or pendants. For kids, there are slipcovers that fit over their device – making them look like little dinosaurs or rainbows.
Disappearing is the stigma of wearing a hearing aid. Apparently, there is a huge percentage of the population that could benefit greatly from one, but refuse to go there – a deep and untapped market, wouldn’t you say? Even the names and the faces behind the industry are starting to scream coolness. One company is called “Pulse.” And Huey Lewis looks pretty hunky sporting his salmon colored “assistive device” for the company that pays him to be its spokesperson. His device is very small and comes in an array of sleek, colorful designs.
Basically, I just want to stop uttering the question “what?” and be able to fully appreciate what someone is saying to me, especially if we’re in a room full of people who are all talking at the same time.
I guess if I can look good doing it, that’s pretty amazing.