Chalk one up for exasperated women everywhere. Odds are the older men in their lives actually don’t hear them and need a hearing aid. Some estimates suggest that by age 65, about one-third of men need hearing aids. However, only half of this group wears them.
Why men tend to resist hearing aids
“Men tend to avoid hearing aids because of their negative imagery,” says Dr. Steven Rauch, an otologist with Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts Eye and Ear. “To them, hearing aids symbolize declining age and health and that their best years are behind them.”
While some men can get by without a hearing aid, they need to consider the potential impact hearing loss has on their life, relationships, and even cognitive health. “Left untreated, hearing loss is associated with higher risks for social isolation, depression, dementia, and reduced physical activity,” says Dr. Rauch.
If you think you might need a hearing aid, get tested
The first step to knowing whether you need a hearing aid is to get your hearing checked by a certified audiologist. (Ask your doctor for a recommendation.) Hearing tests measure loudness and clarity of sound — how loud the sound needs to be for you to hear it and how clear the sound is.
People with normal hearing can hear sounds with a loudness between zero and 25 decibels (dB). When the softest sounds you can hear are louder than 30 dB, you may be missing a significant amount of speech and are probably a candidate for a hearing aid.
It is important to note that hearing aids are amplifiers — they make sounds louder, but not clearer. If you have trouble understanding speech in a noisy environment (a clarity problem), there are ways to improve communication without a hearing aid. For example, when speaking with someone, sit face-to-face and reduce background noise, like the TV, or distractions, like reading the paper. Be fully focused and engaged. “Ask the person not to shout, but to speak more slowly and more clearly in order to hyper-enunciate words,” says Dr. Rauch.
If you do have a hearing problem…
Age-related hearing loss and noise-induced hearing loss tend to affect both ears equally. If hearing loss occurs in one ear but not the other, it could be a result of a stroke, infection, or tumor, and requires a medical evaluation, says Dr. Rauch.
People with single-sided hearing loss, or hearing loss that is different in each ear, are less likely to benefit from a hearing aid in the bad ear. “These people seem to have trouble fusing the electronic sound of a hearing aid with the normal sound in the opposite ear,” says Dr. Rauch.
Hearing aids also have a learning curve. “If you’ve had a gradual, progressive hearing loss over a period of years, your brain is out of practice processing and filtering the full spectrum of normal sounds, so it needs time to adjust,” says Dr. Rauch. Wear your hearing aids for about an hour daily and then gradually increase your time over a few weeks. You don’t have to wear them all the time either. Put them in only when you need to, but the more you use them, the quicker you will adjust.
Also, be aware that not everyone finds hearing aids pleasurable. “They make everything louder — voices, noises, sounds — and some may find it overwhelming in places with a lot of stimulus like restaurants and crowds,” says Dr. Rauch. “They are usually more helpful in quieter environments.”
Factors to consider when hearing aid shopping
- A hearing aid center offers a better range of features, options, and prices than a franchise, which often has limited choices.
- A single aid can cost from $3,000 to $4,000, although most vendors offer a discount for the second one.
- Medicare and most other insurance plans don’t cover hearing aids, but the Veterans Administration might.
- Check the consumer protection laws regarding hearing aids for your state.
- The average hearing aid lasts about five years.