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 Normally gregarious and the life of the party, he became increasingly withdrawn because he couldn’t hear well enough to partake in conversations around the table.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 From the withdrawn, quiet man who would sit by himself emerged my funny, animated father who told stories, laughed, and played jokes.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.
Bible verses for today’s meditation and inspiration: Matthew E. McLaren
Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NIV
The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing. Zephaniah 3:17 NIV
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Philippians 4:4 NIV
Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Romans 12:12 NIV
When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy. Psalm 94:19 NIV
The Lord has done it this very day; let us rejoice today and be glad. Psalm 118:24 NIV
Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. Habakkuk 3:17-18 NIV
You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand. Psalm 16:11 NIV
Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls. 1 Peter 1:8-9 NIV
I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. Isaiah 61:10 NIV
Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete. John 16:24 NIV
Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 2 Corinthians 9:7 NIV
A person finds joy in giving an apt reply— and how good is a timely word! Proverbs 15:23 NIV
That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:10 NIV
Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Romans 12:15 NIV
You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance. Psalm 32:7 NIV
So that I may come to you with joy, by God’s will, and in your company be refreshed. Romans 15:32 NIV
Your statutes are my heritage forever; they are the joy of my heart. Psalm 119:111 NIV
But godliness with contentment is great gain. 1 Timothy 6:6 NIV And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. Hebrews 11:6 NIV
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