For my career in Audiology, almost 30 years, I have heard repeatedly that there is a stigma with hearing aids.
My mom asked me once why I wanted to help people hear better when no one wants a hearing aid.
I have pondered it, talked with others about it, and have written about it many times. I am going to attempt to share with you that wearing a hearing aid is actually the opposite of a stigma and is really about staying young because you are staying connected.
When I mentioned to my current patients about my theory and the premise; Wearing hearing aids keeps you younger, staying with it, they all say; “This is True”!
The first thing we must define: “what is a stigma”? I understand it is something that is bad and has a bad connotation for something. The dictionary defines it as “a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person”. And here is what we think people think about a hearing aid: “I will be old or look old if I get a hearing aid”.
If you know me, you know I love to talk about my grandma.
My grandma never wanted to get old. When she was 90 she said to me, I don’t want to move into a senior place because everyone is old there! What?? I thought about it and understood that it is all an attitude. Even though my grandma dyed the color of her hair, shopped and wore fashionable clothes and even wore heel shoes, she also had the attitude that she was young. She never said anything about aging as it was a no-no topic and she was not going to get old. She celebrated every birthday as a success and was looking forward to her 100th birthday. I personally never heard her say I am old and I want to die.
We all age, but some of us want to stay young or don’t want to be “old” as long as possible, like my grandma.
I hear this often and when I think of not being old, or aging gracefully and successfully, I think of these adjectives. I think of being pulled together, with-it, fashionable, in-shape, healthy, interesting, funny, and living life! I have been in several successful aging groups, and we have also defined being a successful ager as someone who continues to stay connected to others, enjoys life even if it is different at each chapter of their life.
I think of my friend Elliot who left us years ago. He enjoyed his 90s by teaching people how to fall. I loved being with him as he was interesting and funny. Yes, he had wrinkles and looked older, but I didn’t see that, I saw a man who was engaged and engaging. He wore fun clothes and was always aware of current issues. We communicated we were connected, even though he had a terrible hearing loss (wore large behind-the-ear green hearing aids so everyone could see them) no one would say Elliot was OLD! He was fun to be with and helped contribute to society and our community. Everyone who was anyone knew of Elliot in our community.
I have always loved being with seniors. And then there was Bob and Sue! Bob was 10 years younger than Elliot. Sue a little younger than Elliot. We all liked to hang out together. I was 40 years younger than them essentially. But I seriously felt the same age as Sue. She was so fashionable, did her nails blue (and in those days it was so fashionable) and liked to do things. Bob wrote a book on successful aging and Sue, well, she just was aging successfully in all counts. She was a fascinating strong woman with lots of opinions! We loved talking about politics and current topics. Bob was more mature than us but enjoyed laughing at our silly antics. The three of them reminded me of my own grandma at times.
My grandma had hearing loss at a younger age. She was 50 when she got the tiny-tiny hearing aids. She was different than Elliot. She didn’t want anyone to see them as god forbid anyone could see them and that anyone thought that she was getting old. Again, even in her 90s, she would not admit to being old. Elliot on the other hand loved to share with people that he was his age of 90 ish, but I don’t believe for a moment that he thought he was old. Even though he allowed his hair to turn gray and didn’t wear makeup and fashionable clothes, he still wore fun clothes and he jumped around like a youngster. He stopped driving at a certain age but he rode his bike when the weather permitted it. My grandma walked in high heels until her knees gave out and then she wheelchaired around like no one’s business! Wanting to talk to everyone and make friends with those who would be friends with her. Her sparkly blue eyes charmed those around her.
Living life is the key to youth. I have met and worked with seniors that are different than my grandma, Elliot, Bob, and Sue. Some people have the attitude of getting old, they are not fashionable, and they are not keeping up with current trends and events. I still like to get to know them and help them. I would not call them my friend as it is harder to be with them. I find it more depressing and walking away from them living in the past and not looking into the future. Isn’t youth about looking forward and not backward? Do you hear a teenager say, “I remember when I was a baby”? No, they are looking forward to going to college and working and getting married, having kids, a career. As we age, we need to continue to look forward to more live events. And while we have our past, we must live life into the future.
These seniors who are aging not so gracefully don’t want to get hearing aids because they are old but with a confound—don’t want to look old. It boggles my mind. They want to stay in the past. It is hard to converse with them and I feel they are old when I have to talk loud and slow for them to hear me. It takes effort and energy. It is exhausting to talk loudly. Perhaps if they got hearing aids, they would get younger? Would they not hear better and perhaps become more connected to others? Start living life into the future instead of staying in the past.
When you age poorly, you accept that you are old. People don’t get dressed fashionably and don’t really stay connected. As I see them in my mind’s eye, they wear pajama-type comfy clothes, and slippers, are overweight and watch TV with the TV loud. They don’t have friends and they don’t keep up with current events. When I meet a senior like this I try to spark them with living life and meeting people but the wooiz me is too much. A victim mentality. Their daughter or son is making them get a hearing aid, even if they don’t think they need it and it will make them look old. I believe they sometimes use money as an excuse but it comes down to the “I am old”.
One thing that my grandma, Elliot, and Sue all had in common is that they all wore hearing aids from the moment they found a hearing loss and couldn’t hear.
The hearing aid didn’t make them look old! The hearing aid kept them young.
I miss all of them now as they have all left me. Happy for me, I have other seniors in my life I love to be with that are young. Like my parents! Thank god they are living life and continue to hear my antics.
Thank you, mom and dad, for staying young, current and fashionable, and wearing the hearing aids we fit for you everyday!
And as I write this I think about myself aging and staying fashionable. My teenage daughter wants to get her nose pierced. Is it something I should do too?
At least I am wearing a hearing aid. I too want to age gracefully like my grandma, other seniors I know and love, and my parents.