Hearing Loss? Denial Doesn’t Work. Trust Me.

En español | Boomers and beyond: It may be time to face up to the fact that you probably have hearing loss. An estimated 48 million Americans do, and 55 percent of them are under the age of 60. It’s easy to ignore, but your life will be much better if you don’t. Girl Whispering In Grandmother's Ear

Like many people, I spent years — decades! — denying that my hearing loss was a problem. It came on suddenly and strongly, so I couldn’t deny its existence. But I did a good job of denying that it interfered with my work and relationships.

Most people lose their hearing gradually and may not even realize it. It’s easy to forget that many visual things also have sound. Do you hear the leaves rustle as you walk in the fall? Do you leave the water running in the sink because you don’t hear it? If your spouse tosses off a remark as he or she walks out of the room, do you dismiss it as something you weren’t meant to hear anyway?

Do you have trouble hearing in restaurants? The restaurant is too noisy. Do you try to sit up front in your place of worship? The minister mumbles. Do you have a hard time understanding your 3-year-old grandchild? She has a lisp. Your friend from Russia? An accent. Your neighbor? He has a big, bushy mustache.

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Why does it matter if you’re successfully fooling yourself and others? Where’s the harm?

Untreated hearing loss has social, physical and psychological consequences.

Socially, hearing loss is mistaken for aloofness or snobbery when you fail to respond to a greeting. At work, colleagues may think you’re bored or burned out. Or maybe you’re just losing it mentally. Or drunk. Few will guess it’s hearing loss, because we don’t acknowledge hearing loss if we can possibly avoid it.

Physically, the noise and/or aging that caused your hearing loss — by destroying the tiny hair cells in your inner ear — has also left other hair cells vulnerable. Unless you start being more careful about noise exposure, your hearing loss will accelerate. Psychologically, you’re at a greater risk of cognitive decline and dementia.

Healthy hearing is essential to healthy living, and I’m excited to begin this new series of dispatches, where I’ll share what I learn every day about how to live a better life with hearing loss.

Katherine Bouton is the author of Shouting Won’t Help, a memoir of adult-onset hearing loss. She has had progressive bilateral hearing loss since she was 30 and blogs about healthy living — and healthy aging — at Hear Better With Hearing Loss. She is a member of the Board of Trustees of the Hearing Loss Association of America.

Photo: IPGGutenbergUKLtd/iStock

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Kiwnky 5pts

I like this article because it mentions about being careful to noise exposure. People are faced with it just about everyday, such as sirens from emergency vehicles or tornado warning systems, other people playing loud music, noisy machinery, and the list goes on and one. I did get a hearing test but was told I didn't need one at this moment.  I do admit that I'm gradually experiencing hearing loss. Now that's a BIG ISSUE!

bionicwoman 5pts

ds59838439 hearing loss is very complex, isolating, humiliating and life changing.  Many people with hearing loss bluff their way through conversations.  

I applaud you for your sensitivity.  Perhaps have a one-on-one conversation with this person, explaining that you noticed he or she is missing relevant conversation and environmental noises.  You might also recommend he or she visits the website www.hearingloss.org which has helped me and many others through the many stages of mild to profound hearing loss.  Here he or she will find a wealth of information, resources, information on hearing aids and assistive technology and strategies.  He or she can also find a local chapter to learn how to be proactive, engaged in community and advocate for this cause.  

I hope this helps in some way.



jm32338695 5pts


What an apt, well-put piece. Your ability to capture what so many with hearing loss experience and dismiss is uncanny! I know that a big roadblock for people with hearing loss is cost, too. Once people realize they are experiencing hearing troubles, the first step is, to which you alluded, confronting the issue. However, the second and third steps involve getting a hearing aid-- and figuring out how to pay for one. Just a few companies have addressed this, all of them being online companies. When I found out I had hearing loss (actually, my husband and I BOTH do), we searched high and far for the best deal-- but not just money-wise, I'm talking quality-wise, too. We settled on Audicus. Mine is in the ear and his is behind the ear or what they call BTE. PER PAIR each of ours were under $1400. I think mine was actually $1200. Wild compared to the $6500 and $6800 quoted to us by our respective audiologists (and BTW, the Audicus models looks the same as those suggested to us at the Ear doc). 

I hope more people are able to recognize and come to terms with their hearing loss-- especially because the solution doesn't have to be ugly or ridiculously expensive, as I've learned!

ds59838439 5pts

This is terrific, and timely.  How does one tell a friend that his/her hearing is deteriorating?  Is there a tactful way of doing it?  I have several such friends.

jsterkensaud 5pts

Thank you AARP for paying attention to the important issue of hearing loss. As Dr. Mark Ross said years ago: when one person in the family has hearing loss, it affects the whole family. I grew up with a father who suffered hearing loss due to military work, a family history and intense use of antimalarial drugs.  My dad waited way too long to get hearing aids (like 25 years!!!) and would not wear them very much until one day... when my sister discovered him watching a blaringly loud TV without  wearing his hearing aids - which prevented him from hearing the doorbell. She asked why he wasn't wearing his new instruments and he answered that he didn't think his hearing aids were doing much for him. To which her answer was:  “Papa, they may not do much for you, but they do a heck of a lot for us!”  After that incident he pretty much used them faithfully. 

Anyone who is struggling with the question whether his or her hearing aid is bad enough to warrant some kind of intervention - need only ask a spouse, friend or someone they spend time socially with.   If they roll their eyes, sigh a BIG sigh of relief that you broached the subject and tell you that they are happy because you have been missing out on so much - make that appointment and invite them to accompany you when you get your hearing tested. 

Be prepared before you go for your hearing test appointment: read the How to Choose the Right Hearing Aid suggestions on AARP's site here: www.aarp.org/health/conditions-treatments/info-05-2011/getting-the-right-hearing-aid.html and Download this useful handout from the Hearing Loss Association of America: www.hearingloss.org/sites/default/files/docs/Fact_Sheet_PurchasingHearingAid.pdf

lesliegaris 5pts

Katherine Bouton is a clear, direct writer who immediately establishes trust with the reader.  Her book "Shouting Won't Help" is already a classic in the field of hearing loss and the medical and human ways to deal with it.  I look forward to this blog immensely.

2Papa 5pts

You can't tell them if they can't hear you.