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October 13, 2002

Learning to hear again

From:, VA
Oct. 13, 2002

Crossing the sound barrier--reporter makes the leap to a hearing aid.

The Free Lance-Star

O WHAT IS IT like to wear a hearing aid?

As a hearing-aid user for more than two years, I can offer some good news and some not-so-good news.

For starters, hearing aids definitely work and they can have a positive impact on your life.

If properly fitted, they are not uncomfortable to wear. And there is little maintenance--other than replacing batteries--or any costs after the initial purchase price.

Now the not-so-good news: Wearing a hearing aid is not like having your natural hearing suddenly return.

Background noise--especially in restaurants and other public places--is a frequent frustration. If you set the volume to hear a friend's conversation over lunch, his or her voice may be drowned out by the background noise. But if you reduce the volume to lessen the distractions, then you may find yourself missing parts of the conversation.

Road noise also can be a problem, especially if you are with a carload of friends and trying to have a conversation with people in the the back seat. If traveling alone, I've found it best to turn down my hearing aid to reduce the wind noise and traffic sounds, and then adjust the volume on the radio or CD player as necessary.

There also is the matter of acoustic feedback--a whistling noise that can happen when adjusting the hearing aid into position or when your hand is cupped over the ear. It also can surprise a friend if you greet them with a hug.

Most of these problems are being helped by technology. I've read that digital hearing aids can be programmed to amplify soft sounds more than they amplify loud sounds. Some models even have memory options.

My hearing loss became a concern about five years ago, when I noticed I was frequently missing parts of conversations and often had to ask people to repeat themselves. A person with mild hearing loss still hears conversations, but many of the words seem mumbled.

Your wife may call for you to bring her ice water, and you'll bring a fly swatter. Or you may be confused whether the announcer said that the score of the baseball game was "5-to-3" or "tied at 3."

A hearing test confirmed nerve damage in my right ear. I hesitated to buy a hearing aid at first, I guess because I saw the act as bidding farewell to my youth and admitting senior-citizen status.

I was wrong.

Eventually, it became clear that vanity was less of an issue than being able to hear better on a daily basis.

The bottom line on hearing loss is that it usually develops slowly, worsens with age and is permanent. If you haven't become acquainted with this disability yet, just wait. More than a third of people over the age of 65 suffer from some degree of hearing loss.

And you can't hide the problem from the people around you. I figure I have plenty of ways to humble myself even when I hear what's going on. Why should I risk even more embarrassing moments when I can do something to avoid them?

So my advice would be to take advantage of technology and buy a hearing aid if you need one--or two--and cherish every sound just as long as you possibly can.

LEE WOOLF may be reached at 720-5470 in The Free Lance-Star's Stafford office at 616 Garrisonville Road; or at 374-5000, ext. 5616. E-mail to: lwoolf@freelance

Copyright 2002, The Free Lance-Star Publishing Co. of Fredericksburg, Va.