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.
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.
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.
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