I came to loathe the first pair of hearing aids I ever tried over five years ago. The audiologist took great delight in explaining all of the fancy electronics inside them, but I didn’t find them very impressive in the real world. The low point was one night at a restaurant, when I was able to hear pots and pans rattling in the kitchen and even the scraping of other patrons’ silverware against their plates, but could make out barely a word my dinner date was saying.
Fortunately, recent improvements in hearing aid technology have made hearing aids much more effective in real-world settings. If you have been disappointed with hearing aids in the past, as I was, now might be a good time to give them another try. To help you find a hearing aid that is right for you, here is some information to keep in mind when selecting and purchasing a hearing aid.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), an estimated 15% of American adults report having some form of hearing loss. Among people 75 years or older, nearly half are affected. There are a number of potential causes: For instance, some hearing loss is hereditary. Conditions such as ear infections or meningitis, head trauma, certain medicines, and long-term exposure to loud noise can also cause hearing loss. And sometimes hearing loss is a consequence of aging.
Some researchers believe that diabetes may cause hearing loss, but the issue is controversial. It is well known that diabetes can damage tiny blood vessels throughout the body, a condition called diabetic microangiopathy. According to some researchers, diabetic microangiopathy may affect the tiny blood vessels supplying the inner ear. And a number of studies have indicated that hearing loss may be more common in people with diabetes than in the general population.
People with hearing loss may not be completely aware that they have it. They might notice a muffled quality to speech and sounds, or they might have trouble understanding words, especially when there is background noise or the din of multiple conversations at once. But they may chalk these problems up to speakers who don’t enunciate well or to a modern world that is just too noisy. Whatever their cause, however, hearing difficulties can be frustrating and may cause people to withdraw from conversations and even avoid some social settings.
For many, hearing loss is more than just a mild annoyance — it can dampen the quality of their lives. Studies have shown that people with untreated hearing loss report being depressed at higher rates than those who wear hearing aids. Researchers believe that people with hearing loss experience greater stress and fatigue trying to adapt to situations or places, such as the workplace, where hearing is important for functioning effectively. Some studies suggest that hearing loss is related to high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease. Other studies indicate that hearing loss may affect memory and cognitive function as well.
In spite of how common it is and what a negative effect hearing loss can have, only one in five people who could benefit from a hearing aid actually uses one. Some people insist that they don’t have a hearing problem, some are embarrassed to wear a hearing aid, and in some cases, people have had bad experiences with hearing aids in the past, discovering that wearing one wasn’t making most conversations easier to understand. One of the most common problems is the interference of background noise that drowns out conversations. But hearing aid technology and sound selection have improved dramatically over the past decade, minimizing issues such as this and, in many cases, making the hearing aids small enough that they are virtually undetectable to the casual observer.