Good hearing essential to physical and emotional well-being

Charlotte S. Yeh, MD

Chief Medical Officer, AARP Services, Inc., Guest Contributor

For many years, it was clear that my father was becoming hard of hearing. Normally gregarious and the life of the party, he became increasingly withdrawn because he couldn’t hear well enough to partake in conversations around the table. He began to walk with a shuffling gait. He was declining in front of my eyes. And yet, when we communicated by email, his intellectual curiosity and warm storytelling skills were intact. But in person, he seemed to be fading away.

After considerable prodding, I convinced him to get a pair of custom hearing aids. The transformation was amazing. At a family reunion a month later, there was my father sitting at the breakfast table, regaling everybody with stories of his mischievous childhood. He was, once again, the center of attention. Gone was the shuffling walk, replaced by a strong, confident stride. From the withdrawn, quiet man who would sit by himself emerged my funny, animated father who told stories, laughed, and played jokes. He could hear his children and grandchildren. The dad I remembered as a child came back to us.

This story, and so many just like it, are about changing the public conversation on hearing to show how people who experience hearing loss can move from fear and denial to aging gracefully, with resilience, joy, and health.

The health benefits of hearing well

We should be talking about what I saw: the profound impact that hearing well can have on the living. We should be talking about what is gained by hearing well — social interaction, family connection, and workplace productivity — not about what is lost. Hearing loss is not a stand-alone disability. It is linked to everything we do every single day.

Surprisingly, many of us wait seven to 10 years before even acknowledging we are having trouble hearing and get a hearing aid. Why? For some of us it’s denial, or fear of looking old; for others the hearing loss is so gradual we might not be aware of the insidious progression of it. In fact, more Americans report getting a colonoscopy than a hearing test!

Yet, failing to get hearing tested and corrected early may actually contribute to aging faster. Hearing loss is associated with earlier onset of dementia, earlier mortality, and six times the rate of falls compared to those with normal hearing. Contributing to these negative health consequences is the isolation, the loss of interactive communication with others due to inability to hear clearly. This results in loneliness, which is known to have a negative health impact equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Moreover, when the input is diminished, the brain loses the ability to distinguish sounds, which means having to “re-learn” to hear when she or he finally gets a hearing aid.

Having a conversation about hearing loss

Instead of hearing loss, think about what you gain when you hear, allowing you to live life to the fullest. Life is about keeping the critical ability to stay connected to family and friends. A recent study found that for Americans 65 and older, hearing loss had a greater impact on life than cardiac disease, stroke, osteoporosis, sciatica, cancer, and many other common conditions.

My dad’s transformation was an “aha” moment for me — as a daughter and a doctor. I’ve since learned that hearing loss, which can be alleviated fairly easily, is a largely hidden problem, even as it affects many. One in three people 60-plus and two-thirds of people 70-plus have hearing loss. Among baby boomers, 15% are already affected. And a few years ago it was reported that 12% to 15% of school-age children have some degree of hearing loss, with the highest incidence among teens.

These numbers are hardly surprising given our routine exposure to rock concerts, sports stadiums, car stereos, earbuds, traffic jams, jet engines, and the like. Hearing loss is no longer a marker of age. It’s here now and it’s something many of us will experience sooner than we expect. As a result, we can’t stress enough the importance of protecting our hearing and preventing hearing loss from the loud noises in our environment — and getting one’s hearing tested early.

What matters to people when they talk about hearing loss?

Sixty-one percent of AARP members indicated that hearing loss made it hard to follow conversations in noisy settings, while 44% noted the impact hearing difficulties can have on relationships with friends and family. Roughly two-thirds said they would get a hearing test if hearing loss hurt their relationships with family, and 59% said they would be tested if it became a burden on the family.

Think about my dad’s story. What’s more powerful and positive — talking about what hearing loss sounds like or talking about how better hearing helps people regain that edge and enjoy life?

Your own hearing loss story may still be down the road. But remember that early screening, early testing, and early intervention mean you won’t lose your all-important relationships with friends and family. And you’ll never miss the birds chirping outside your window.

For the latest information on hearing loss and what you can do, visit the AARP Hearing Resource Center.


  1. Chakras do Corpo

    The balance chakras provide, prosperity and well being. Thank you.

  2. Brittany

    Thanks for the info.

    I was thinking what can you do when the person refuses to use the hearing aid he has, because he finds it uncomfortable to wear despite the fact that it is small, wireless and discreet. Well, maybe it’s because he is on full denial phase and prefers to get use to asking people to repeat themselves or to guess parts of the conversation.

    I’ll try to share this post hoping that it´ll increase his awareness that it’s not just a matter of loosing your hearing, it’s about loosing human contact and life quality.

    See ya.

    • Joan Good

      What can one do to point out hearing loss to a friend? She is using her deceased husband’s hearing aids, when she decides to wear them. She is extremely deaf and I no longer want to travel with her as it is exhausting going in conversational circles. I said something to her son, but he would prefer to ignore the problem,
      as would her other three children. She also has a pattern of sticking her head in the sand. Anyone with any ideas?

  3. Monique

    Veterans can get hearing aids at no or nomial cost through the VA.

  4. Martin Audiffred

    Everything is expensive – but it is really not that expensive when you
    realize that you are able to improve you hearing ability.

  5. Michelle

    My husband at first (and is still) a little embarrassed about wearing hearing aids, but it really does help. And you know, they sometimes are mistaken for a bluetooth which isnt bad at all. He also has tentenitis, the ringing never stops. There are some over the counter medicines for that which he tried and it seemed to help only a little bit. When we went to a different ear Dr she told us they are useless and do not help. Well then, why did another Dr. not tell us that? I say, if it works for you then use it.

    As for hearing Dr.’s, we have met a few. Two of them just wanted to sell us the most expensive of course. Even when I had insurance to cover it they sold us something not covered when I told them what my insurance will cover. Now are having the insurance company reverse the charges back to them. I won that battle. So please be careful when shopping for hearing aids. Make sure they give you the ones paid (a portion) by your insurance. These hearing aid Dr.’s are like sales people. Just want your money, even in Boston.

    As for this article, I’m a bit offended by the statement increase mortality? How about being more positive? I’m so concerned about my husbands health. She should have said something more to the effect of improving your hearing/health by…..her advice from the Dr.

    Thank you

  6. Roger Keyser

    I have known for years that I ought to have hearing aids but I have not taken the time or faced the exorbitant expense to be fitted. I am surprised that no smart company has taken on the hearing aid industry as one that is way overdue for truly competitive pricing. If cell phones were similarly priced, in comparison to the relatively simple electronics and development cost of hearing aids, I think a smartphone would cost more than a car. There is a huge market waiting for really disruptive marketing in the hearing aid industry.

  7. Emma Louie

    I have loss of 60% hearing in left ear due to nerve damage caused by mumps. Was told can never have hearing aid in that ear. Now, at age 90, have some hearing loss in right ear. What to do?

    • Martin Audiffred

      Emma –
      I am so very sorry that someone told you that a hearing aid would not help .No one should ever say that to someone , because the only person can say that is YOU – and for YOU to able to say that you would need to have a adjustment/trial period with a hearing aid.
      Locate an audiologist, have an up-dated audiogram – and have a adjustment/trial period and you decide.

  8. patrick green

    Yes, hearing aids must be making somebody very wealth. The price is not only prohibitive but outrageous. I don’t even want to burden my insurance company with such a rip off (but I did it).

  9. Diana

    The cost of good hearing a AIDS is prohibitive for most retirees. I know I will need to replace mine soon but I don’t know how I can afford another pair. I picture myself with a little black board & chalk so people can write down what they need to say to me! !!

  10. Barrie Wickens

    Lipreading and Managing hearing loss classes can also be a great support, even to those with hearing aids.

  11. Marie

    It is not just the denial or fear that caused people who lose their hearing to wait, but also feeling ashamed and embarrassed. Many people associate hearing problem with low intelligence or cognitive ability, thus experiencing oppression, even by their loved ones. This is sadly very true to people’s own unconscious thoughts.

  12. Linda

    Although the cost is very high, the rewards are high too.
    I absolutely recommend insurance to cover loss, damage, and maintenance.
    My dog took advantage of my carelessness on three different occasions; she is alive and well, and I have learned by lesson.
    The cost of coverage is approximately seven hundred dollars a year and there is a deductible. I have not been dropped, and continue to renew.

    The incredible and sorry fact that Medicare does not cover is a travesty.
    It is well documented hearing loss contributes to both the emotional and physical wellbeing of older adults thus increasing costs of Medicare. COLA cannot keep up.

    Implantable hearing aids will also help with the many obstacles the elderly experience such as losing, difficulty placing molds in ear, and difficulty replacing the batteries; replacing requires both good eyesight and dexterity.

    As soon as the cost of the implantable device declines, I shall switch, not only for an easier daily management, but to keep my quality of life so much better.

  13. Gail

    I’ve worn hearing aids since just before my 44th birthday, over 20 years! I can attest to their benefit. My hearing loss was very noticable because it is worst right in the middle of the range of speech sounds. It’s true that your brain has to relearn how to interpret sounds when you get hearing aids. The longer you wait, the harder it is. My mother, with similar hearing loss, could not understand words even with the best digital hearing aids, probably because she waited too late.

    Hearing aids are expensive, and ought to be covered by insurance. They are bundled with the services of an audiologist, which is what drives the cost up. It’s hard to shop around, and each one seems to have their favorite product line. There are “assistive listening devices” which are inexpensive and people can try to see if they help, but I wouldn’t judge custom-programmed hearing aids by those. My current pair of digital hearing aids has lasted me about 11 years, so I’ve spent around $8.75 a week on something that has improved my life immensely.

    Most audiologists have a trial period (the best give you 90 days as opposed to 30) plus a payment plan. It’s worth it to try different audiologists to get someone you’re comfortable with. I don’t like the ones who treat me like I can’t understand the technology or who are patronizing in any way (“just get the ones I say because I know best”).

  14. Candido Bertinatto

    Chakras are energy centers that allow balance and well-being and we need to pay more attention to them, as much influence on our health. Chakras in disharmony can interfere with hearing.

  15. Alice Shepherd

    If it doesn’t hurt the way some medical problems hurt, then it sits on the back burner in spite of my knowing my life would be so much better if I could afford a hearing aid of quality. At 76, I’m embarrassed by the number of times I find myself having to say, “excuse me, could you repeat that?” or nodding or saying something that might serve as a generic answer to a question I really didn’t hear clearly rather than ask for another repeat.

  16. Poppa

    I agree with Bob. Who wants to run the risk of 3 to 5 thousand dollars for hearing aids which have no guarantee of efficacy nor money back guarantees? Also it’s like it used to be when buying a computer – the moment you buy one, a new and improved device will be available. As I once told the CEO of the company I work for, medical coverages offered by most endurance companies have benefits for every part of our bodies, EXCEPT OUR EARS!
    Finally Dr Yeh, why did you NOT mention the costs?

  17. Bob

    Informative article, thank you.

    However, the article fails to address the problem of the high cost of hearing aids, a cost that effectively puts them out of reach for many low-income seniors. It’s a “prescription drugs or groceries” kind of dilemma.

    I hope our public servants find a way to help retirees on Medicare obtain these devices. But I doubt they will help anytime soon, if the 0.3% Social Security COLA for 2017 is an indicator.

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