Who really wants to ask an older person to please get them and wear them, because it’s so dang frustrating to talk to them?
Apparently my grandson didn’t mind asking me.
“Why don’t you just wear hearing aids, Nana?” he blurted out of the blue one day.
“I don’t need them,” I countered. “Besides, I can hear you just fine. It’s your sister I can’t hear.”
“No, Nana. You don’t understand. You think you can hear me just fine. But you can’t. I speak up really loud so that you can hear me. My sister doesn’t.”
Was my grandson trying to tell me something? Was he trying to tell me that my not wearing hearing aids put the responsibility of being heard onto those around me—specifically onto him?
But I had lots of reasons for not wearing hearing aids:
They made you look old.
They were expensive and I couldn’t afford them.
They didn’t work all that well anyway.
They amplified everything, including background noises.
They made you look old (did I say that?)
Then one night, while my husband was watching Herbie Hancock play Gerswhin on You Tube, I was struggling to hear it and I had an epiphany—at least a hearing aid kind of epiphany.
“Oh my God. Herbie Hancock’s wearing hearing aids!”
And sure enough—there sat a big, beautiful, strong-looking 70-something-year-old man at a black concert piano on the stage at some huge music hall with hearing aids behind each ear, right there for all the world to see.
“I’m getting hearing aids tomorrow,” I announced to my husband.
“If Herbie Hancock can wear hearing aids,” I said to the audiologist when I had my appointment with her, “Then so can I.”
To say that hearing aids changed my life at the age of 70 wouldn’t be too strong a phrase.
I had stopped paying attention to conversations that I felt were too much work to hear. I would sit back and not participate at family or social gatherings for the same reason. I pretended that I heard what people said and would make innocuous and bland responses rather than make it obvious that I hadn’t heard a word. When I did want to hear something, I would position myself in front of the speaker so that I could read their lips. I stopped going to movies and live performances because I couldn’t understand what the performers were saying. I didn’t order my own food in restaurants and didn’t answer the door or the phone .
My world had grown smaller and smaller.
With hearing aids, however all of that changed and something else entirely unexpected changed as well:
I gained an improved ability to understand and remember simple instructions. I had an improved retention of the content of newspaper articles and stories. My ability to remember dates and names was restored, and my fuzzy thinking disappeared.
It was as if the part of my brain that I was using to hear with had been having to work overtime. It couldn’t perform all the tasks it had previously performed, such as remembering simple instructions, newspaper articles and stories and also help me hear, so it had shut down those other functions
Hearing aids seemed to free up my brain and allow it to pay attention once again to what it was supposed to pay attention to namely, cognitive ability.
It makes me wonder how many people with age-related hearing loss, who have been diagnosed with some sort of early or vague dementia or memory loss, really just need hearing aids.
Of all the self-care gifts I could have given myself, it has turned out that digitally tuned hearing aids have been one of the greatest. They have expanded my world, restored my ability to participate in social settings and returned my cognitive abilities.
It has been entirely worth it to me to be able to hear every single sound I now hear.
Even if it meant “just” wearing hearing aids.
Author: Carmelene Siani
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photos: Lisa Verhas/Flickr