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What Convinced Me to Finally Try Hearing Aids

Getting hearing aids has just gotten easier. Here’s why you should take the plunge

Illustration of man with hearing aids
Made by Radio

Age creeps up on us all: the poor eyesight, the graying temples, the slightly rounded belly that won’t go away. I wasn’t happy about any of it, but I learned to live with it.

But then my hearing went. And that shook my world.

I would grin and nod when people talked to me at bars or parties, but I didn’t hear a damn thing they were saying. I would feel angry and ridiculous for days after.

There were times when my son would shout at me, “Dad! Did you hear Mom? She’s been talking to you!” I'd look over at my wife, and her face would be a furious blank.

I took my family to see the Gipsy Kings at an acoustically brilliant concert hall, and I couldn’t make out a single melody or chord change or harmony. It was two hours of loud, toneless white noise. 

There are, of course, so many far more serious health issues that men our age face. But they often can be treated by a pill or two, mitigated over time by healthy choices, and maybe even reversed. 

Losing your hearing? There’s only one direction there. There are no magic pills. No doctor has ever said, “Turn the volume down on your car radio and lay off the Q-tips, you’ll be fine.”

The best solution for moderate hearing loss is hearing aids. Ugh. Just saying the words filled me with dread.

But riding a train to work one day, something obvious jumped out at me: Everyone had some device stuck in or on their ears. Earbuds, phone units, headsets. Who really cares if you do too?

I finally got a hearing test that confirmed a significant drop-off in hearing at frequencies above 2,000 Hz (that would be the treble dial on your 1980s stereo). 

I ordered hearing aids. Just as I put them on for the first time, the doctor shut a cabinet door that had her key ring hanging from the lock. And the sound dazzled me: keys jingling! I hadn’t heard that kind of tinkly, fragile sound in years. The grin came back, this time with authenticity.

Driving home, the positive reinforcement continued. There they were again, the cymbals, adding a sonic spice and flavor that I hadn’t enjoyed in years to the jazz I was streaming. Nice to have you back, Zildjians! 

At home, the crunch and crackle of potato chips returned. I heard my wife better. I didn’t get Superman hearing, but it got me back to where I was maybe 20 years earlier, and that relatively subtle difference still seemed giant and magnificent.

Despite a fairly sizable unit that tucked neatly behind my ear, the clear tube and plastic bud that led to my ear canal were inconspicuous. Nobody asked about my hearing aids because no one noticed.

Here’s more good news: Around Oct. 15, for the first time ever, high-quality hearing aids will be sold at retailers without a doctor’s prescription. And word is, these new OTC hearing aids will be equally sophisticated and high quality and yet cost far less than prescription models, somewhere in the $1,000 range. Simpler units might be just a few hundred bucks.

If your hearing is starting to diminish, get a test, and if you need a little boost, buy a pair. The very idea of hearing aids might fill you with an existential panic, but trust me on this, the sounds awaiting on the other side are so glorious.

(Learn more about hearing loss — how to prevent it, spot it and treat it — at AARP’s Hearing Loss for Dummies. Explore tools and resources at the AARP Hearing Center, including the phone-based National Hearing Test – free for AARP members once a year.)