Ruth Bernstein, Hearing Access Advocate
Consider the advantages of wearing hearing aids and cochlear implants. They are good for your brain and your physical and mental health.
Recently, I was typing “hearing aids” when “healing aids” came up. My writer’s brain immediately flashed, “That’s an interesting typo.” I’ve been wearing hearing aids for fifty-plus years and have lots of experience in coping with this invisible, progressive, genetic disability.
I know how wearing hearing aids affects my brain, body and life. I was 36, a wife, mother of four young children and speech pathology graduate school student at Columbia’s Teachers College, when I was diagnosed with a bilateral sensorineural hearing loss in 1969. From 1969 to 2019, I wore two hearing aids, getting new ones as my hearing deteriorated and the technology improved. Lucky me! Every time my hearing got worse, the technology got better.
Relieving Physical Stress
One of the most important things hearing aids do is help the brain understand the sounds it is hearing more easily and with less physical stress. When you have a hearing loss, the brain works extra hard and expends enormous amounts of physical energy to make sense of what it is hearing.
Living alone, I had the luxury of taking my hearing aids out before my shoes came off when I came home after a particularly long and demanding listening day. I could feel my body relax because my brain was in neutral for the evening. On those occasions, I would watch TV with the sound off and the captions on.
After I retired from my high stress job as a convention and meeting planner, I deliberately chose ”quiet” activities where I interacted with a few people rather than large groups. I took up painting, became a writer for CHC, volunteer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art for their hearing accessible gallery tours and was a Central Park Conservancy gardener. Raking leaves, pulling weeds and planting flowers were satisfying exercise I enjoyed in the quiet park. I was only concerned about my hearing at break time, when our group of fifteen volunteers gathered around a table in the Boat House Café. One of my friends kept me informed of what the conversation was about in that very noisy environment.
Overcoming Communication Barriers
Many people with hearing loss deal with the constant fear of not being able to hear answers to everyday questions, participate in social situations and understand instructions from medical personnel and other professionals. Wearing hearing aids can help heal those fears by allowing us to understand what is being said.
I have been fortunate to have excellent guidance on how to maximize the use of my hearing aids with assistive listening devices, computers and smartphone apps along with coping techniques at the Center for Hearing and Communication. My membership in the Hearing Loss Association of America, New York City Chapter, allows me to learn from others who are in the same situation I am, a useful social activity.
Aids help people communicate with family, friends and coworkers. That is a healing factor because the person wearing aids and the people communicating with him/her are not constantly frustrated by communication barriers. “What did you say?” and/or “never mind” can begin to disappear from our vocabularies.
Promoting Healthy Aging
As we age, our brains can begin to slow down and our hearing often deteriorates. In 2019, I decided it was time to have a cochlear implant (CI) in my left ear because my hearing was so poor, aids no longer provided me with sufficient amplification. I had trouble hearing one-on-one, using the phone, and was physically exhausted at the end of every day.
Over the last two-and-a-half years, my grateful brain has learned to recognize sounds like birds singing, water boiling and the elevator bell ringing. I can participate in one-on-one in small-group discussions. I use captions to supplement phone and masked conversations, watching TV, and whenever I feel I need them. Happily, I have a lot more physical energy because my brain does not struggle to process what it is hearing.
I am also aware of the growing body of studies that suggest untreated hearing loss can be a factor in developing dementia. Getting aids/CIs may be a good way to help prevent the onset of unwelcome brain disease. Learn more.
The stigma associated with hearing aids is so strong, only 10% of the people who need them wear them. I hope my stories help change the negative perception of aids and cochlear implants so people who need them will be willing to use them.