What is it about hearing aides that says: “I’m handicapped” or “I’m old” or “Shout at me”?
My mother was completely deaf in her 40’s from Meniere’s disease. It also causes debilitating vertigo and constant ringing in the ears. Although Mom eventually received a cochlear implant, she commented that she felt her profound hearing loss was an “invisible disability.”
Meniere’s is a nerve conduction loss therefore just amplifying sound, as traditional hearing aides do, doesn’t help. And because there was nothing obvious to confirm her deafness, my mother felt people were dismissive and disparaging of her hearing issues.
There’s No Stigma to Glasses!
I’m a people watcher but the focus of my attention differs from most. I might be distracted momentarily by the “fashion challenged”, or adorably cute kids. However predominately I’m observant of the behaviors and appearance of older folks.
Some limp. Some use gait devices such as walkers or canes. Gray hair. Dyed hair. No hair.
Interestingly though practically all of them wear glasses. Virtually every senior, middle-aged adult, many young adults and even a smattering of teenagers wear glasses. From cheap to designer frames, subdued to bold colors, glasses are everywhere and quite stylish.
And braces! I was terrified as a kid that I might have to follow in my older brother’s brace laden steps. Plus his nightly headgear made him look like a Martian. Now though braces come in a kaleidoscope of colors with matching or artsy contrasting bands.
Glasses Cool! Braces Cool! Hearing Aides Uncool!
It got me to thinking; if reading glasses and braces have been elevated to “cool” why not hearing aides? Unfortunately I think the answer is obvious. Hearing aides are used almost exclusively by older adults.
Society sees seniors through a slightly different, less glamorous lens. Any device or “odd” behavior perpetuates this perception.
The Vicious Circle
In my view, there’s a vicious circle in which every player in the ring bares some culpability for the stigma associated with hearing aides.
The public’s opinion of hearing difficulties corrected by hearing aides is definitely less positive and less accepting than that of reading difficulties corrected by glasses.
But seniors bare some responsibility for this negative image too. A few of the auditory challenged older adults whom I know refuse to wear their hearing aides in public because “People will see them and know I can’t hear.”
Duh! This excuse is ridiculous! “People” will hear that same senior say “What?” over and over again and know they can’t hear well anyway! From my perspective, the loud, attention getting behavior is much worse.
Mine will be purple and have flashing lights.
So maybe we need to colorize hearing aides as we have teeth braces!
Or maybe if hearing aides bore labels from top designers as glasses do like Michael Kors, Kate Spade or Prada, they would be perceived as more glamorous.
Before her cochlear implant, my mother’s only strategies to help with her deafness were to learn signing, finger spelling and lip reading. Unfortunately only lip reading really helped, as my dad never learned to communicate with her via either of the supplemental hand gestures. My daughters by contrast were intrigued with Grandma’s finger spelling and signing and practiced with her when we visited.
My mother existed in a nearly deaf world for decades compounded by never ending tinnitus. Science and technology had nothing to offer her back then except the aforementioned trifecta. She would have embraced hearing aides no matter how conspicuous, no matter how ugly, colorful, bulky, with or without cords, etc., just to have a sound solution.
Someday I may need hearing devices and if I do, I will wear them and be grateful that medical science has a panacea to offer me.
I will be grateful that I can have a delightful, reciprocal conversation with a few friends in a quiet room.
I will be grateful that I don’t miss most of the highlights at a group event.
I will be grateful that I can hear music, the phone, the timer, a smoke alarm, emergency vehicles, my cat purring or my grandkids with their little high pitched voices.
And mine will be conspicuously obvious in purple with flashing lights!