Debbie Duncan says recent regulatory and technologic advances have made hearing aids more easily available, and promise a new era for people who need them.
Perhaps you heard—hearing aids are now available over the counter. This is making hearing devices more affordable and accessible to millions of Americans who have mild to moderate hearing loss. I expect it will also lead to improved technology and even lower costs.
I’ve worn prescription hearing devices, what I call my ears, for more than 10 years. The features have improved enormously. Now I can stream podcasts, audiobooks, news and music directly into my ears via Bluetooth. TV, too, even while sound is muted on the set. My adult children won’t be walking into our house in the coming decades and be blasted by TV volume, as I was with my parents. My hearing is so bad (thanks for that, too, Mom and Dad), I qualified for one of those state-sponsored landlines. I never got one; now I hear just fine on my cell phone through my rechargeable ears, as long as people don’t talk too fast. I follow most conversations in person. Masks are still a bit of a challenge.
Untreated hearing loss in older adults can lead to cognitive decline: memory loss and even atrophy of the brain. Social isolation is often another consequence of poor hearing. This is a matter of public health.
I’m hopeful consumers will take full advantage of the new policy, which should normalize and de-stigmatize wearing hearing aids. There is a lot of information—expertise, ratings, and testing—available online. The best way to begin is with a basic hearing evaluation to find out how much help you need. Try to get personal assistance, either online or at a retail outlet. Also, decide which features are important to you. There’s a wide range of options and prices. Whatever you choose, be patient. Hearing aids take time to get used to.