ELDER MUSIC: Charles Brown
Elder Taboos – Part 2: Incontinence Products

Elder Taboos – Part 1: Hearing Aids

There appears to be a hierarchy of old age diseases and afflictions rated on the “cool” scale. The higher the ranking, the more talk and exchange of information there is and, I would argue, the more attention is paid.

Cataracts are highly rated. Organ transplants are way up there, definitely cool to talk about. So is bypass surgery. Even prostate exams and colonoscopies, while lower on the scale than – oh, say, dental implants, are discussed these days, although dentures are not.

Nor are hearing aids.

But they should be discussed – at least among ourselves - because age-related hearing loss is as common as dirt, afflicting more than 55 percent of people older than 70 and an even higher percentage after age 85.

One remedy for some kinds of hearing loss is cochlear implants which rank rather high on the cool scale. But they are not widely used. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, in the United States only about 42,600 adults and 28,400 children have received them as of December 2010.

So. Hearing aids are what we have to treat hearing loss, but only about one in seven people who could benefit use them. Why is that, I wondered.

Audiologists and other experts point to several reasons. Some people, because hearing loss is usually gradual, don't notice their hearing is fading. Others refuse treatment out of vanity – that “thing” in your ear” - and for many elders, there remains a stigma attached to hearing aids from our youth.

Two things may be changing that. The vanity reason could be declining now that just about everyone walks around with wired and wireless devices plugged into their ears for telephoning and music listening. So who is know what's a phone and what's a hearing aid.

And, the stigma problem should fade if the long list of aging musicians with hearing loss – often due to too much loud music over long careers – continue to speak up. Ozzy Osbourne, Pete Townshend, Eric Clapton are among them. George Martin (producer for The Beatles and others) was forced to retire due to hearing loss and Phil Collins gave up touring for the same reason.

This video, although uploaded last year involves at lease one celebrity who is now dead, does have the right messages about hearing aids:

A couple of other reasons elders may not have their hearing checked or get hearing aids are price and reputation. Although there are a few exceptions, generally Medicare does not cover routine hearing exams or hearing aids of any type. And hearing aids are expensive. According to Consumer Reports:

”Our shoppers purchased two pairs of hearing aids each, or 48 aids in all, ranging from $1,800 to $6,800 per pair, including professional fitting and follow-up services, in the New York City metropolitan area.”

The reputation of hearing aid providers is weak because prices vary widely and the industry is not standardized. There is a fly-by-night feel to some of them.

Always, of course, you should begin with your physician and that Consumer Reports story, which is excellent, has a good section on how to choose a provider.

When we were young, it was taboo to talk out loud about cancer. “Did you hear? John's got cancer” was more likely to be whispered one to one. Of course, that is no longer so.

Untreated hearing loss reduces people's ability to engage with the world around them. That can lead to social isolation, already a problem for some elders, and that leads to depression, illness and even early death. There are studies, too, suggest hearing loss can lead to more falls.

When we talk about things openly, they become more acceptable. Hearing aids should be as acceptable as eye glasses.

Tomorrow, Elder Taboos Part 2: Incontinence

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Tarzana: An Eternal Menage a Trois


I don't see the stigma to a hearing device but know several people with hearing losses and their reasons for not having a hearing aid. One is my husband. He does hear but misses certain decibel levels. When he went to the doctor he was told that his was due to work he had done and no hearing aid would help him. I have asked him to keep checking back for possible improvements in aids; but he puts it off because of being busy etc etc.

The other ones I know who have and don't like them say they are invasive for the kinds of sounds they bring into them. It feels unnatural. Their world without them is peaceful and the hearing aid brings in a lot of loudness that bothers them a lot.

I don't see why there'd be stigma to a hearing aid at all, anymore than reading glasses which most oldsters eventually use, but there is definite frustration when you try to talk to someone and they don't hear you-- sometimes rather conveniently, I might add.

In my women's group -- 60-70 age range -- we just spent a pleasant evening comparing the hearing aids that have been prescribed for 2 of the 9 women.

The cost is a major factor, as well as the difficulty of getting a model that works for one's particular hearing loss.

Neither my mother nor my grandmother ever made aids work and I watched them sink into growing social isolation. This can be really disabling.

I wear them, and life is better because of it. They aren't perfect, but they are much better than hearing almost nothing!

Rain touched on what I hear most frequently: the product may be better but they amplify all the sounds we have learned to filter out, and with a hearing aid, you can't filter it out. So the person with hearing loss is stuck, to be able to hear people speaking they have to endure all that background noise.

I use one Songbird hearing aid in my right ear when I am in social situations or at concerts or plays or films. To me this is analogous to using cheap reading glasses, which means a generic aid like the Songbird is good enough for me. The aids cost $80.00, last for several months, and are disposable. No fiddling with batteries!
Unluckily, the company that makes these perfectly acceptable cheap hearing aids has gone out of business, so I bought several aids, and they should last me for quite a while.
I saw an ad in The Nation Magazine for hearing aids somewhat more expensive than the Songbird that might be worth trying out.
The hearing aid business is just a racket. These gadgets should be cheap.

I'm lucky. My retirement benefits from my job with NY State pay for hearing aids every five years or so. I am on my second pair, which are an improvement over my first. The ones I have now are expensive, but they seem to only amplify voices talking; everything else is still background. The audiologist programmed the devices according to my hearing (or non-hearing) patterns. My hairstyle covers them and I often forget I even have them on. Once I went into the shower wearing them. But, as I said, I'm lucky that I have insurance that covers most of the cost.

For several years, I knew I needed hearing aids, but the cost was prohibitive. My audiologist said that you know it's time when the quality of your life is affected. Eventually that became the case. What was alarming was that what I did hear, I heard wrong!

I am so grateful for this marvel of technology and had no trouble adjusting. My hearing aids did cost $3,000 and have buttons that give me some control. Eventually I've learned to adjust them accordingly. Yes, there is a shortfall with normal hearing but I'm so grateful for the improvement over life before that I can't complain.

The cost of hearing aids and lack of insurance coverage for them is a travesty. When hearing loss can take such a heavy toll on a life, and be downright dangerous, why is this so? It seems to matter little to the powers that be.

My gratitude doesn't discount the trouble that others seem to have with hearing aids. I was fortunate enough to have no problems and a generous family who noticed my difficulty. To say the least! Vanity? Well, we are all different and in different phases of our lives, but in my opinion, there's more to that aspect than hearing loss, wouldn't you say? Perhaps a phase to grow through. I know I did, but thankfully, it was short-lived.

I don't need a hearing aid yet, but I probably will if I'm still around in 5-7 years. My husband, who is now 82, finally gave in and got one for his right ear last year. He was a police officer way back in the day, when only "sissies" wore hearing protection while at the firing range. (There were no female police officers then, of course.) He had lost almost 90% of hearing in his "shooting" ear.

The cost is surely prohibitive for many elders. Partly because I'm still working, we were able to afford a high-quality aid, but it was $2500. By the time I need one I'll probably be fully retired, so I guess I'd better start saving for it!

I wasn't aware that hearing aids were not only costly but that Medicare didn't cover them. Both my wife and I are experiencing the type of hearing loss mentioned in the video where we blame the other for poor hearing.

This added expense that we will soon face will be an undue burden and knowing that there are representatives out there that can scam you isn't encouraging either.

Thanks for the CR link on this. I'll need a lot of info like this as I research this issue.

I had a really bad ear infection recently which was resistent to some strains of anti-b. This was all in the midst of directing a play.

My awareness was totally heightened as to the difficulties of some friends who have lost their hearing due to being ambulance drivers and loud sirens.

I am so glad you are here Ronni to bring these matters to more public attention!
I have a fresh appreciation of ALL my senses, formerly taken for granted.


This is really good information that I need for which I am grateful. It just proves that experience counts. Thanx so much everyone. Dee

Hearing loss is one of the few things I don't have wrong with me. Lol. There is a lot of hearing loss in my husband's family, however.

His much beloved grandmother drove everyone CRAZY because she couldn't hear half of what went on and flatly refused to consider hearing aids. So we all had to yell, or repeat things over and over. Ugh!

One of the characters in my writing is a nurse who is not afraid to talk about anything, no matter how "taboo"--so I agree, I think the more these subjects are discussed, the better.

But personally, I haven't been the same since somebody told me that cataract surgery could cause you to go blind in that eye. I had always heard that was such a safe procedure, sigh.

Please, if you have trouble hearing, find a reputable ENT (ear, nose, and throat) specialist who partners with a dispensing audiologist and have a full ear exam and full hearing test. This will allow you to find out if there is a hearing aid for your problem. If there is one available, get it! Save up if you need to, ask your kids to help out, do whatever it takes. Hearing well again will absolutely change your life. It did mine.

Caveat: be mentally prepared to hear your own voice as if it were coming from a speaker; it is. Get over it.

Digital hearing aids are tunable, by the audiologist, much like a graphic equalizer so that the devices amplify most the parts of the audio spectrum where your loss is greatest.

The best reason to get a hearing aid? Your friends and family! They will love you for doing it. You may think that perhaps you have a hearing problem. They know it for sure! Do them a huge favor.

It never occurred to me that hearing aids wouldn't be covered by Medicare. Good hearing is essential to emotional health and personal safety. I've just gotten through getting glaucoma and cataracts fixed. I sure hope hearing isn't next on the list.

thanks for talking about stuff one one else does!
i sure need the infomation, and the comments are helpful also.

I've been wearing hearing aids for about nine years. I'm on my second pair, which is a big improvement over the first. I still don't hear everything, but it has become almost impossible for me to be without them. They are very expensive: think wearing tiny computers in your ears. That's what they are and miniaturization costs. They don't seem to amplify background noise and most of the time I can hear my companions in loud environments; sometimes better than normal hearing people. I also find I am more sensitive to loud noises.

I don't mind telling people I wear them, or discussing the subject, but I found early on, people who didn't understand hearing aids speaker louder when they find out you are wearing them. Truth is, they should speak softer, if anything, but most important, speak clearly. Amazing how many people, especially young people, are mumblers.

I don't discuss them unless someone else brings it up. I don't hide the aids, but they aren't particularly noticeable and everyone seems to ignore them.

My husband Bill put off getting hearing aids because of all the common fears. Finally he went to the VA which will provide hearing aids completely free of charge to *any* veteran whether or not the vet is eligible for other benefits.

The right kind of hear aid will automatically adjust to the ambient and background noises that are said to be so disturbing. These hardly ever bother Bill

Lastly, in order for the brain to adjust correctly to hearing aid use, it is necessary to wear them almost all day every day.

Bill is completely happy with his hearing aids and suffers less from tinitis wearing them.

I do need hearing aids as evidenced by my most recent hearing test. and problems hearing certain range of voices..However the 'medium" priced hearing aides are going to cost a total of $4000 and Medicare doesn't pay on red cent.
So once again I have postponed the aids.

I've never understood the taboo re hearing aides. It just doesn't make sense. I hope we baby boomers have gotten over it by now and make it acceptable to wear them, after seeing our grandparents and perhaps parents shun them out of some misplaced embarrassment. I'll be wearing them pretty soon and have absolutely no fear or trepidation about the whole thing. They're just another wonderful tool to help us out, for heaven's sake!

Glad you're discussing the serious hearing loss issue. I continue to fail to understand why aids for such critical senses as vision and hearing are not covered by Medicare and health insurance.

What's more important -- seeing and hearing -- or all these augmentative treatments that have been added for coverage, like massage and others I could name?

Medicare B does provide 80% coverage for hearing aids but only for select medical diagnoses made following professional evaluation that was ordered by a physician. This does not typically include presbycusis -- age-related hearing loss which, as Ronni noted, is what so many more of us may experience.

Be aware not all hearing loss can be helped with hearing aids and simple amplification. This is one reason why hearing evaluation with a licensed certified audiologist trained also to recognize any possible medical issues is important -- someone whose primary business is not to simply sell hearing aids.

Adapting to the use of a hearing aid is a process some new users have difficulty doing without assistance. In past years my profession could train individuals through this process, often needing to include family members, but this service in no longer reimbursable.

Cochlear implants are not appropriate in all instances of hearing loss.

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