When I was in high school and a smart-aleck with my friends, we used to tease my dad because of his hearing loss. Thank goodness he had a great sense of humor and a knowing sense of self.

My dad was in his 60s and in pretty good shape because he loved to garden and putter around the house. He wore bifocals for as long as I could remember, and he always took care to make sure he had the proper eye prescription. Unfortunately, he ignored his loss of hearing.

Hearing aids were out of the question for my parents’ generation. There was a stigma to wearing aids, because they were too big and not attractive. Besides, hearing aids were a sign of aging.

Our parents simply asked us to repeat what we said when they couldn’t hear us. There was no need to confront the loss of hearing.

In her 80s, my mother began to experience hearing loss. My brother tried to introduce her to a hearing aid. He brought the aids home; she tried them and returned them to him.

She couldn’t stand the high pitch sounds that were produced by the aids. And the aids were still clunky and obvious – something my mother just couldn’t ignore.

That was then, and this is now.

Since that time, two things have helped the prospect of hearing loss for the baby boomer generation:

  • there has been an educational process that makes it easy for boomers to understand how to strengthen their auditory capabilities;
  • the development of sophisticated auditory technology for augmented hearing.

Hearing Loss Data

The EAR Foundation and Clarity® studied the occurrence, cause, and impact of hearing loss on baby boomers – those born between 1946 and 1964. The study indicated that hearing loss is more widespread than early estimates, affecting 38 million people between the ages of 40 and 59.

Half of the nearly 76 million boomers in the US are experiencing some degree of hearing loss – and very few are doing anything about it. According to the Baby Boomer Hearing Loss Study, it is estimated that by 2030 nearly 50 million baby boomers will acquire hearing loss.

The results of the study indicate that most people experiencing hearing loss are not seeking help to remedy their hearing issues. Only one of every three surveyed had gotten their hearing tested. It also revealed that the majority of boomers who report hearing loss blame it on exposure to noise.

I’m not a research scientist in the area of hearing loss. However, I can give plenty of anecdotal examples of friends, dancers, and relatives who are exhibiting hearing loss.

Most of the people I interact with are 65 and older, and by the time I meet them (and many I have known for years), they need to go to Costco and quickly buy the latest in hearing aid technology.

I’m speculating, but it seems to me that it takes men longer to recognize the problem and get help than it does women. Two of my female friends have hearing aids. One wears her aid with grace, and the other avoids wearing it completely.

Some men, and even women, don’t wear a hearing aid while music is playing or when they are playing an instrument, for example, in a jazz band. Most people wear ear plugs, which, over time, preserves hearing.

Whether it is music or noise pollution (motorcycles, car exhausts, lawnmowers, jet planes, rock concerts, traffic), people who have hearing loss wear the tiniest hearing aid. No one can see it.

But here is the problem: Those who are too vain or resistant to help themselves hear better and choose not to augment their hearing are relegated to leaning in on people when a conversation is taking place, thereby invading another’s space.

Admitting the Problem

Admitting a problem does not necessarily translate to finding a solution. It has been my experience that most of the individuals who tell me they have difficulty hearing are doing very little to find appropriate care to alleviate their hearing loss, such as seeing their primary care physician or an audiologist.

Whether it is because of apprehension – or denial, or vanity – the EAR Foundation’s data reports that hearing loss is one of the most overlooked issues within the boomer generation.

Most baby boomers I know grew up on rock and roll and the concert lifestyle. Think Woodstock, The Doors, The Beatles. Today, we still have active lifestyles in retirement, which lends itself to experiencing an increased amount of environmental noise.

Baby boomers have encountered more noise pollution than any other generation. Statistics show that only about 18% of people who have hearing loss relate it to a medical condition, such as those who fought in the Vietnam War.

Getting Help for Hearing Loss

I am in and out of social situations all week with baby boomers my age. (Actually, they are younger because I am technically three years older than those born in 1946.)

When I conceived writing this blog for Sixty and Me, I began to do my research by asking questions of my male friends and fellow dancers. The first man who protested that he did not have a hearing problem was the man who leaned in and asked me to repeat all the time. I could have predicted that.

I also noticed that women my age and younger did not have major hearing problems. They could handle the background noise and music and have a perfectly normal conversation.

It is imperative that baby boomers get help for their hearing loss. The Baby Boomer Hearing Loss Study revealed that loss of hearing adversely effects interactions in all areas of life: home, workplace, social situations, speaking on the phone, or answering questions, often resulting in being misunderstood or isolated.

Finding a Solution

Normalize your hearing loss by getting help. Get informed in general about products that can improve hearing. Don’t let vanity or resistance get in the way of improving your life.

Hearing better will alleviate stress and strain on your mind, body, and spirit so you can get back to your normal routines and maintain balance.

Remember, hearing loss not only impacts the person who is struggling with the condition, but it also affects other people’s lives in a negative way.

Those closest to you shouldn’t have to bear the burden of guiding you through getting help for hearing loss. This is a condition that should not be ignored. Take care of your physical health.

Please check out my other articles in the healthy aging series: how to take care of your eyes, and your teeth.

How well do you hear? Would you admit – to yourself or others – that you are experiencing hearing problems? Why or why not? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

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