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Can you hear me now? Yes

Mindy Ward Hearing aids in a case sitting on a patterned and quilted background
EARPIECE: Early-onset hearing loss brought about some new ear accessories. Hearing aids have come a long way, including shape, technology and even color.
Don’t ignore hearing loss: My journey toward listening to the little things.

Before the waitress left the booth, I responded. “Thanks, we’re good.” My husband just smiled.

We were in a crowded Texas Roadhouse, noise all around, and a waitress with a mask was asking us if we needed anything else. To many, it seems like a relatively easy question to answer, and frankly an unimportant event in a day. But for me, it was the first time in years I actually heard a waitress. It was the first day I received my hearing aids.

I’ve spent a better part of 10 years saying “huh,” “what,” excuse me,” or “I’m sorry, I didn’t get that.” On far too many occasions, my kids nudged me and then repeated the question for a response. I began turning up the television, and when that didn’t work, the entire family resorted to viewing with closed captioning. And I felt awful.

According to my doctor, I have early-onset hearing loss. Who knew 51 is considered “early”? But after that appointment, I joined the 48 million Americans who have significant hearing loss. So much that I now have hearing aids for both ears.

Contributing factors

According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, over one-third of the farmers in the U.S. have hearing loss. Hearing loss comes from prolonged exposure to noise — think tractors, lawn mowers and livestock.

Just how loud is it around the farm? According to the National Safety Council, here are typical noise readings on the farm by decibel:

A graphic of a table listing the farm noise activity with the noise decibel range
Source National Safety Council

Let’s be honest, most of us don’t protect our ears. It is easy to forget. Life is busy around the farm.

In my case, I don’t believe my hearing loss had anything to do with farm life. I believe it is hereditary. Either way, it is not something to ignore.

Getting help for your ears

There is one thing that delayed my hearing health — money.

In my early 40s, when I started to notice that I couldn’t decipher the entire conversation, I had two daughters and an active sheep show circuit. Yes, I could’ve placed money aside, but I was young, invisible and I thought it would improve. By my late 40s, when hearing became noticeable to others, well, there were college tuitions to be paid.

Perhaps you are like me. I’d rather give to others, especially my kids, than take care of my own health. It was my choice. There was no one else to blame. I waited until the time was right, and now I am financially able to put money toward me.

No stigma in hearing aids

I remember the days when hearing aids were not “cool.” They were clunky, and wearing them meant you had “old lady hearing.” Well, toss that shame away. Welcome to the new world of audiology.

There are different models for my level of hearing loss, in-ear, or over-the-ear. And in each of those models there are what my audiologist calls a Chevrolet, Cadillac and Mercedes versions. The prices go up according to model.

I opted for the over-the-ear Cadillac model. My hearing aids cost $2,000 per ear along with a $350 charger — yup, no batteries — they are rechargeable like your phone. Most insurance companies do not cover hearing devices, so make sure you save up. We used our HSA for this.

Each model has Bluetooth connectivity. When my phone rings, I answer it and hear the conversations through my hearing aids. However, they do not have a microphone, so keep your phone nearby and speak into it.

Using the phone app — which is sweet — I can change the direction my microphones pick up noise. For instance, in a large meeting hall with individuals in the back, I can open the app and choose to only hear what is behind me, or I can choose to just hear someone across the table. There are presets allowing control for noisy areas, television viewing, music listening and quiet locations. I can also just adjust it for loudness with a touch of the button, either on the phone or on the earpiece.

What I missed

I did not realize all the world I missed due to hearing loss. Nor did I realize how loud I talk.

It is taking some adjustment. My hair seems to cause static with the microphones, and the feedback is loud in my ears. I can now actually hear all the pops in my knees when I stand or walk, and the high humming from my refrigerator.

But being able to communicate frees me. So much of my time was spent reading lips that I was exhausted by conversation. And in this day of the coronavirus and masks, it became even more laborious.

If you’re like me, putting off your hearing health, I can attest from the other side — it is worth the investment. Now I’m finally able to hear and respond to a waitress in a crowded restaurant wearing a mask.

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