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Making Hearing Aids as Cool as Eyeglasses

A neighbor leaned in close, putting her ear near mine. “Can you hear it?” she asked, referring to her new hearing aid? Yes. Yes, I could hear her hearing aid announcing that it had been inserted correctly.

They haven't gotten any cheaper (the average price for a pair of hearing aids hovers around $4,000) and users often find them less than satisfactory. Further, many who could benefit don't use hearing aids because there is a cultural stigma attached to them.

Recently, Barnard College professor, Jennifer Finney Boylan, in an opinion piece in The New York Times, wrote about the cultural acceptance gap between eyeglasses and hearing aids:

”Why, I wonder, is it that devices to keep you from being blind are celebrated as fashion, but devices to keep you from being deaf are embarrassing and uncool? Why is it that the biggest compliment someone can give you about your hearing aids is 'I can hardly see them'?”

I've often wondered that myself. Hearing aids may not work as well as eyeglasses do, but that or the need to feel “cool” shouldn't be a reason for so many people to choose silence. Ms. Boylan continues:

”Among those in their 50s, 4.5 million people have some hearing loss. How many wear devices that would enable them to better hear the world? Less than 5 percent.

“Wearing hearing aids can change your life in an instant — not to mention that of the people you love, whose actual voices you may have been unable to hear. But we don’t get help.

“Because coverage by insurance carriers is inconsistent. Because we don’t know where or how to get our hearing tested. Because we’re afraid of what others might think. Because hearing loss is uncool.”

And they are wildly expensive but Boylan takes that on too while explaining some of the advances that are making hearing aids more successful for users.

Earlier this year, CNN reported on 78-year-old New Yorker, Peter Sprague, another who wants to make hearing aids cool. He's gone so far as to create a prototype of his idea, to start a company and to seek venture capital funding. Here he is in a short video explaining it all:

The hearing aids are called HearGlass which is, according to Sprague's company website, a

”...disruptive wearable device that incorporates full audio spectrum HiFi [hearing aids] into eyeglasses, allowing for a directional hearing experience superior to traditional [hearing aids]. Bluetooth/WiFi capabilities allow for hands-free music streaming, telephony, voice-activated commands and on-the-fly setting changes.”

You can find out more at the website. HearGlass is not yet available, Sprague is still in the fundraising phase and I have no idea if they work well. I'm not here to sell them.

I just like the idea that there are some people trying to remove the stigma from hearing aids so maybe more people will use them.

Comments

Getting good hearing aids has made all the difference to several of my friends. I think some of us who are older resist them because we watched a previous generation struggle, and fail, to make primitive versions work. My grandmother who died in the 70s had several iterations and they never did anything much but render her frustrated and angry about batteries and tiny switches she couldn't manipulate. It seems it is not like that anymore -- or doesn't have to be.

Much more improvement in hearing aids does seem long overdue, given all the development of other micro things over the past twenty years. I have no doubt the technology is out there (HearGlass and more), but I suspect, as with many other things, that there may be a strong lobbying resistance by trade associations for the existing hearing aid companies. Those campanies do a lot of things to lure people in. Hardly a week goes by that my husband and I don't receive promotional material from one or more hearing aid companies. Now they are even hosting free "educational" dinners like so many other businesses that focus selling things to the aging population.

I started wearing hearing aids about two years ago. I believe that people resist them not
because of visibility but because they don't deliver on people's desires. They cannot restore hearing, they just make things louder. The voice buzz in a restaurant is still gibberish but now more annoying.

People do not stare at others' ears. Most of us who have aids might make a discreet glance at other people's ears, but generally people don't. My next pair will be more expensive because the ads make more promises.

I do wear the ones I have because I've been told aids slow down hearing loss which continues once it starts. Many people I know seem to do quite well with their aids, but a lot of us are disappointed. I wouldn't object to greater visibility for perfect hearing.

This guy's on to something I'd love to have, if it's not prohibitively expensive. My above average priced hearing aids with a life long guarantee........whose, theirs, or mine?.........make one on one conversations better, and hearing the sounds of nature. But restaurants, or groups, or movies? That button that supposedly drops out the background noise seems useless. One doesn't retrieve one's old hearing abilities with aids, but it's a slight improvement in certain situations. And the as for them sending out the message that I'm old doesn't bother me. My long white hair already is an old age flag that I will wear proudly until it's gone.

It's all about the cost. That's a lot of money for something that might not work. Eye glasses, with an eye exam, are costly enough ($1500 the last time) but I know I'm getting a product that will work. $4000 for something that might not? I don't even want to consider that. Well, I can't. It's too much money.

People who suffer hearing loss deal with isolation issues. I have watched people withdraw from trying to engage in conversations because they can't hear single voices in a room full of people. As already mentioned, hearing aids are unaffordable by most. Eventually, these people withdraw from all group activities and sit at home watching Netflix on their computers wearing their earbuds.

I didn’t know hearing aids aren’t cool. Hearing is cool.

Wasn't there some de-regulation in legislation recently that allows for more competition of hearing devices? At the time, it was said the competition should bring down prices considerably.

I got tested a few years ago, and learned that I have problems in a group -- can't distinguish individual voices, or what they are saying. Haven't looked into hearing aids yet, but I did recently start using the subtitles/captioning on movies. So often, I couldn't understand the dialogue even with the volume up high. So far though, unless someone in one-to-one conversation is speaking in a whisper, I can easily understand them.

My step-dad was nearly deaf, and refused to get hearing aids. Finally we bought him an expensive set...and he wore them, at tops, a week. Nevermore, he said. I don't know, maybe you get used to the peaceful quiet?

My grandfather wore a hearing aid, but much of the time he turned it off -- to save the batteries. My father should have had a hearing aid, but didn't get one, probably because of the cost, although he was quite well-off and could easily have afforded one.''

And I could probably use one, but won't buy one since they are prohibitively expensive.

I do remember my grandfather complaining that the background noise was magnified as much as speech and even the noise of his clothing interfered with hearing speech and I know that would drive me nuts... (as if I weren't already nuts).

As I approach 81 I have some hearing loss but still function well enough to get by in most situations. TV can be annoying in that the commercials are shouted out while some dialogue--isn't (I never have believed what the TV execs say: that they don't amp up the volume on commercials) . I got tested last year and, of course, super-Salesman Bob said I "needed" two aids for a total of about $6,000. Yeah, sure--which bank should I rob to pay for them?

If I'm still around by the time I truly need hearing aids, I hope they'll be significantly less expensive and easier to wear/use. Shelling out $6,000+ for something that may or may not work out doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Then there's the hassle factor. I'm not sure I need yet another device to keep track of, change teeny-tiny batteries on, and deal with adjusting.

having been profoundly deaf in one ear for many years now, I'm pretty careful with the other one. I avoid loud places and people, and get along okay - well with one or two exceptions. Sometimes those exceptions are funny when there are misunderstandings.

Still, over the years, I've perfected my own little ways with dealing with the problem. For me, hearing aids are not a solution, but I'm old enough at 83, to have a strong hand in creating my own environment, and it is a quiet one.

For example, the mute button comes in handy when the announcers get a bit too boisterous and the crowd noise gets high in my favorite basketball TV games. I can tell what's going on perfectly well without the voice overs. Oh yes, that mute button is good for commercials as well.

Ah, peace and quiet. Nice.

Reader alert: This is going to be a long post of my personal experience of becoming deaf so skip this if you are not interested
.
Hearing loss is very isolating. Thea T. is absolutely right. Trying to hear in a noisy environment is almost impossible. Even a normal sound (like a radio in the background) makes you want to turn it off so you can hear better. As my hearing loss progressed I withdrew more and more from social contact and my friends with accents or voices in the wrong pitch were lost to me. High notes and voices are usually diminished until they are lost. It was too tiring for friends and acquaintances to try and make me hear and too tiring for me to try to hear.

I did a lot of pretending to hear and it often led to misunderstandings and embarrassment. I was once accused of the fact that pretending to hear was insulting because it indicated that I was not interested in what that person said. Eventually my hearing loss became so bad that I found myself dominating the conversation in an effort to keep the other person from speaking so I wouldn't have to struggle to understand them. This led to a loss of several friends and I know it was because conversing with me was too much a one way street.

That said, anything that can make hearing better is to be given a fair trial. Technology still hasn't done a very good job of cutting down on background noise no matter how much you pay. And I have periodically spent money I didn't have for a newer and better aid because of the promise that the newer aid would help. It never did. Because I have not worn the traditional hearing aids for years I cannot speak for the newer ones. I do know that a setting to do that on my CI is of little use.

I recently bought a gadget that was very expensive. It was to be used in a noisy environment and the speaker had a small microphone that attached to their clothing and I had a hand held receiver to pick up their voice. I tried it out in restaurants with a friend and with my daughter. All it did was amplify the sound and it didn't help enough to bother with it. An odd thing that happened with it though was when my friend was paying the check and still had the mic attached I had walked toward the exit and was about six feet away I could hear everything he was saying to the cashier. It obviously was just another amplification gadget.

Eventually I had to have a cochlear implant to be able to hear at all. For a while it was wonderful with one disappointing exception. The sound of music was gone and I had to train my brain by listening to music. It has taken years to partially achieve that goal, but I do not think that I will ever enjoy music knowing how it should sound as compared to how it now sounds. I empathize with Beethoven and admire him for not letting deafness stop him from writing beautiful music that he could no longer hear. I do not have that dedication and haven't played the piano for several years because of the way it now sounds to me.

I am not writing of my experiences to dissuade anyone from getting a hearing aid. On the contrary I am pointing out the pitfalls of not doing all you can to improve your hearing.
Each person is unique and many with a mild hearing loss have found that hearing aids have improved their lives dramatically.

Shame on our government from not funding vision and hearing problems. It is just as much of a necessity as a hip replacement. I know - I have had both.

I can get hearing test through the clinic I go to and they say my hearing is good except in a crowd. Family dinners conversations are lost on several us. I've gotten good at texting under the table "I can't understand a word you're saying," yes we all have them in our pockets at the table. Except the pre-high school kids.

It’s a 5 year old article but I remember filing it in my brain under “when the day comes..” (it isn’t here quite yet, but I may be working on it). I have watched contemporaries and friends either isolate, deny, fake it, scowl/look mean or angry trying to hear, do all the talking.

Now, this is where texting and using a cell phone at a restaurant could be acceptable to me. The kids do it without, to me, an acceptable reason.

I'd be happy with a cure for tinnitus.. I can hear. Just not what I want to hear.

Frequently I come back to this page during the day, especially when there's a topic in which I am very interested. This is one of those times.

Now, I am often in awe of Darlene and her 'no nonsense' posts.

Today, I simply want to hug her like a sister. Or in other words, "way to GO, Darlene!"

Congress recently passed legislation to allow cheaper "over-the-counter" hearing aids. I would love to hear from people who have tried them and especially from people who have used them and can compare them with the expensive models. Given that we're dealing with a republican congress, I don't really trust the motivation with the legislation.

During my last year on group insurance (before I was forced on Medicare), I received a letter stating that now hearing aids were covered. I leaped at the chance. I went to a reputable doctor of audiology who tested my hearing and confirmed that I had significant loss. (I am also blessed with 2 family members who have very soft voices, which I had struggled for years to comprehend—we had a serious on going communication problem). Getting a good audiology test gave my doctor information that told her which hearing aid would work best for the frequencies I couldn’t hear (she had several brands to choose from, and was not invested in selling any particular one). I got the best quality I could for my needs. It was a revelation. Suddenly I could hear my daughter and my husband speak. I could hear in the car, I could hear in a restaurant, I could hear people talking when there was background music! I was delighted that I could even hear people at the next table! What makes my hearing aids great for me is that I have 4 settings: off (for when the ambulance drives by), regular conversation, background noise, and louder background noise. I use all the settings regularly. I just discreetly press a small switch behind my ear, as if I am scratching my ear or playing with my hair. I LOVE my hearing aids—I have so much more freedom to meet and visit in different situations. As Deb said, “Hearing is cool!”

As often happens beginning when I first encountered TGB and your writing eleven or so years ago, your words often prompt me to think about the topic or associated matters introduced. I get carried away writing the equivalent and length of a blog post, you generously tolerate, so here we go again.

I’ve long believed aids to sensory system losses should be regarded as a fundamental health care need. We are the information our brain receives through our senses. Just as the ability to communicate in some form or another is vital to our well-being, whatever our physical state. Our priorities seem not to recognize these facts until we lose them at any age.

What that means is — eye care, including glasses ..... ear care and hearing ..... are two senses of critical importance to our retaining a healthy mental — cognitive status. Maintaining this state holds special significance as we age, our bodies reflect the wear and tear of living, and the ability to communicate — hearing and speaking to express our needs, wants and feelings — becomes increasingly vital.

For many years, at least in earlier generations, people disdained wearing glssses and were often the butt of disparaging jokes i.e. called “four eyes” and other terms, just as many others with various disabilities were subjected to put-downs. We seem to have become more accepting of glasses use, but many people are still too proud to use hearing aids, or are in denial they have hearing loss — often blaming others for not speaking clearly or loudly enough.

Also, many with hearing loss, or those who communicate with them, don’t use the techniques needed to best enable their hearing with what residual hearing they have. As a Speech-Language-Hearing Pathologist (retired now) I have additionally provided services for individuals with hearing loss, some with their family members, and others — to best maximize hearing aid use and benefits.

The first thing to understand is that not all hearing loss is amenable to correction simply by amplification. Purchasing amplifying hearing aids would obviously be of little benefit for some in that case. Having hearing evaluated by a licensed and certified American Speech-Language-Hearing (ASHA) Audiologist who is trained to identify not only hearing loss types but also possible medical issues requiring further medical assessment is recommended, as opposed to hearing assessments provided by some businesses simply testing and selling hearing aids.

My experience has been that too many people expect hearing aid(s) will return their hearing to be exactly as it was before the loss. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Numerous factors come into play, and the brain processing of information that the ear mechanism receives with the help of the aid(s) must be relearned in the brain. (Darlene’s description of the challenge she’s had appreciating music again is an example of that process, though speech sounds are processed in different brain areas and more amenable to intelligible adaptation.)

For the brain to best adapt to the hearing aided sounds, the individual needs to wear the hearing aids over time. All too often when my services were requested the hearing aid(s) had been spending most of their time in the drawer as others report in their comments. Also, the individual with hearing loss did not know how to compensate for the aid(s) short-comings, or what they needed to educate their friends and family to understand about how to best communicate with them. Or, those same caring family didn’t pay attention to what was needed and my patient’s hope was they might listen if they had a professional explain it to them.

Attenuation issues are a common complaint with hearing aids. Our brain has the ability to selectively focus on one speaker in a crowd while somewhat tuning out some of the crowd noise, for example. Amplification simply turns up the volume on all sounds. Aid users must learn through use and practice how to accommodate and adapt to making their aid(s) work best for them in all situations. Considering our individual unique perceiving skills, doing so will vary to some extent for users depending on how they respond to the differing hearing situations they’re in, their hearing loss and possibly the type aid they have.

I note from what users have written in comments here that the hearing aids promoted as having attenuation capabilities leave much to be desired. This should be a cautionary tale to explore their limitations with a competent professional before purchasing.

All that said, using hearing aids can be a godsend for those with hearing loss and those with whom they interact. Given the technological knowledge and skills in this nation, high quality inexpensive hearing aids should be available to everyone with hearing loss who needs them.

A quick bit of advice: before buying hearing aids ask what the return policy is. If you can't return them, go elsewhere! My husband's office had a 90 day return policy which gave his patients enough time to adjust to the aid(s) and decide if they would be useful. I believe visits for adjustments were included in the cost as well during the trial period. Also ask if you can set up a payment plan.

Joared - thank you for this information, which might nudge me to reconsider hearing aids again. With tinnitus and profound hearing loss in one ear and the other being normal, I've dealt with "group-speak" problems by being open about my listening(or not), asking them to give me a tap or elbow if I don't appear to have heard something said.

So far that's worked, but lately I've noticed a straining to hear a speaker when there's light to medium activity going on, so perhaps my good ear is beginning to diminish. I'm optimistic for the possibilities now available. But the pricing is bruising!

Conversely, a friend with poor hearing had no patience with hearing aid problems and now uses ear buds with microphone for iphone and computer use, and unfortunately remains silent and on her own island in most other settings.

Elizabeth Rogers--You and I are about the same age. A couple of years ago, I discovered the closed captioning (CC) feature on TV. Now, I set the TV audio control as low as I can (and still hear the dialogue) and turn on CC. I don't need to read the CC all of the time; but, since it lags (in much programming) the audio by a short span of time, if I miss a spoken word I stand a chance of seeing it in CC. Of course, some of the ridiculous "translations" into CC can be entertaining in and of themselves! I'm quick with the "mute" button on commercials.

The CC helps me, particularly, in following dialogue of people who have thick (to me) accents. I love BBC; but, with 20-30 years of practice, I still miss the odd word.

I have a soft voice and am frequently asked to repeat myself or 'speak up'. I don't enjoy what sounds to me like yelling, but I've auto-adjusted to that mode of speaking when I'm with close friends who have hearing loss.

Darlene's post made me wonder if my perception that a LOT of people talk incessantly might be a response to my voice and their hearing loss. That possibility never occurred to me so thank you Darlene, for another thought-provoking post.

Hearing aids have a very bad reputation, not because of the appearance so much anymore as they've gotten smaller, but because of their baffling cost in spite of their inability to differentiate background noise from the human voice, or as Darlene also pointed out music, and likely, the lovely sound of birds singing, leaves rustling, etc.

DarlEne, Cop CAr , jOAred...u knowihavebeenO deAf since 1963. Wore hearing aids since 1968. Got CI in Maybe 2008. loved the Gentle sound I could hear with the CI. Very different froM hearing aids, which, though expensive and advanced, sounded HARSH. It’s been a great challenge! BEst hearing aid I had came with cords attaching to a unit around my neck. The cords gave people the info that I am deaf , and people spoke slowly and distinctly—making it easier for me to read their speech. The batteries...are a pain in the ass—expensive but necessary. I keep forgetting to replace them every morning. The Deaf Community (those who were born deaf and have never heard) have a cultural block against those of us who were not born deaf and have made our way the best we could. So....do wot you can to understand everyday speech and stay connected to those you love. And god bless the BBC, which captions everything! L’Chaim!,

M.E. you mention a very important aspect of techniques to augment hearing loss — speech reading, or some say lip reading. We all do a certain amount of that unconsciously. Speech reading is a whole topic unto itself and can be an important skill for those with hearing loss to use. Just be aware that only 40+ sounds are visible for visible perception but this technique can be very helpful.

Classes teaching speech reading skills can be very beneficial. In my community they have been offered by several different sources including at our local senior center, some places through adult education classes, community colleges.

A local Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP); where you live might be willing to provide a class if enough people enrolled which would reduce the individual cost for everyone.

If you happen to live in a community where a university Communicative Disorders degree program is offered a clinical offering on campus might be available.

Contact ASHA (referenced in my previous comment) on their internet site — https://www.asha.org/public/ — for a referral to a Speech-Language Pathologist or Audiologist in your area who can assist you in finding what is available. There is also a lot of impartial information discussing hearing aids on that site.

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