Hard-of-Hearing Is the New Midlife Secret

Menopause & Aging Well


Lately it seems like we're all in the same boat.

Or at least, the people who will admit it are in the same boat.

Lately I'm noticing that we midlifers suddenly have a lot in common.

  • We say, "What?" A lot.
  • We frequently reach for the remote to turn up the TV volume. (Or, in my case, I wrestle it out of my husband's hands.)
  • We finally figure out how to turn on the close-caption option on the TV
  • (If we're not turning on close-caption, we're searching for movies with subtitles, which takes the shame out of using close-caption.)
  • When we go out to eat, we prefer quiet restaurants to noisy ones.
  • When we go to events like weddings, or any other affair where there will be music, we pray our table is not right on top of the speakers.
  • We nod our heads like a bobble-head doll when we (try to) listen to someone in a noisy room because we're too embarrassed to say "what?" a third time
  • We constantly are thinking, "Is everybody mumbling or is it me?"

Does it make you feel better knowing that hearing loss is a common phenomenon?

About 14 percent of people between 45 and 64 have some hearing loss, according to the Center for Hearing and Communication. And it's common for it to happen gradually as you age.

Why do we get it? Aging, for one. Oh, and chronic exposure to loud noises. I remember all those rock concerts I attended: The Grateful Dead, Beach Boys, Doobie Brothers, Allman Brothers, Billy Joel, Springsteen ... there were many.

Sure, I walked out of the concerts smiling and humming the songs that I loved so much, but I also walked out with big-time ringing ears. Little did I know then what I realize and know now: That ringing was the result of the tiny hair cells in my inner ear being damaged. And years later, a touch of tinnitus—the sensation of diverse sounds varying in loudness, which comes and goes—affects me as well 50 million others in the United States. And tinnitus is associated with hearing loss.

So, is it time for a hearing aid? Not quite yet—at least not for me. But for many people, it would no doubt be a helpful tool. So many people live with hearing loss, even though treatment is available.

Many people are embarrassed or hesitant. Wearing a hearing aid carries a stigma, even though newer hearing aids are much less conspicuous and much more effective. I've read estimates that the average person waits seven to 10 years to get help.

Money can be an obstacle, too. Hearing aids are expensive and not covered by most insurance or Medicare. It's not like eyeglasses, where you can get away with a cheap pair from Costco or CVS—not even close. A good, custom-fitted, quality pair can run anywhere from $2,200 to over $7,000, with the average price falling between $4,400 and $4,500.

Yet, hearing loss can go beyond just having to ask "What?" repeatedly. It can lead to falls, because your hearing plays a role in balance. It's also linked to dementia. Some studies suggest that your risk of dementia doubles with just a mild hearing loss and triples with a moderate one. One possible explanation: Hearing loss leads to social isolation, which is a risk for dementia.

My primary doctor screens for hearing—not as thoroughly as an audiologist, of course, but enough to determine if there is a problem that needs further investigation.

I hope you'll get your hearing thoroughly tested if you're experiencing what so many of us are—those "What?" moments and frustration over missing out on what is being said. We're all in this together, after all.

I recently read about a test that you can take over the phone. It's scientifically validated and costs just $5. It's based on your ability to pick out speech from background noise. Click here for more information.

More Reading:
Health in Your 60s: The Consequences of Life's Choices
How to Tweak These 5 Bad Habits for Better Health
Signs Your Child May Have Hearing Loss

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