I guess Ralph and Louie are here to stay. They are way too expensive and quite annoying at times, but I’m starting to get used to them. I’m not sure they are helping me, but I feel like I don’t have much choice but to keep them around.
Ralph and Louie are my new hearing aids. I decided to name them. It is much easier than saying “right hearing aid” and “left hearing aid.” Besides that, we’re pretty intimate, so I think we ought to be on a first name basis.
I’m too young to need hearing aids! I’m not even retirement age yet. Really. I hear just fine! If only people would stop mumbling.
I started noticing I was having problems understanding what people were saying over a year ago. My primary problem seemed to be with people who were soft-spoken. I had my hearing tested and was told I had mild hearing loss. With the price of a single hearing aid costing as much as several thousand dollars, I decided to wait. My decision to delay was reinforced by the fact that my health insurance did not cover hearing aids, which is typical.
According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), 30 percent of all women with hearing loss first experience it between the ages of 40 and 59, so I’m not unusual. According to the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA), about 48 million adults (20 percent) in the United States report some degree of hearing loss. HLAA also states, “Hearing loss is a major public health issue that is the third most common physical condition after arthritis and heart disease.”
I don’t know about “major public health issue,” but it is a big issue for me. As I watch my 87-year-old mother struggle with the communication issues that accompany her dementia, I see how her hearing loss makes it worse. Her inability to hear well is likely a big contributing factor to her dementia. So, as I watch her grow older and become more isolated, I worry about what’s ahead for me.
In the here and now, though, being able to function well at work requires that I understand what my co-workers are saying and don’t say “Huh??” all the time. When I started working at the Health Department and found out that my vision insurance provider participates in a hearing aid discount program, I jumped at the chance to get a pair of hearing aids at a reduced cost. And that’s how Ralph and Louie came into my life.
Actually, I’m on my second set of Ralph and Louie. During the trial period for my first pair, I was overwhelmed by background noise, which I understand is common to new hearing-aid wearers, as the brain has to re-learn how to filter out sounds that can be ignored. The loud and annoying noises were reduced somewhat by adjustments to the hearing aid program. Ralph and Louie #1, though “state-of-the-art,” didn’t seem to help much with speech clarity. It was really cool they could wirelessly connect to my iPhone and that I could use my iPhone to find Ralph and Louie when they were misplaced. I decided to try another hearing aid manufacturer since all that technology doesn’t do much good if I constantly have to ask people to repeat themselves.
So, now I’m in to my third week of trying to adjust to Ralph and Louie redux. I don’t get so annoyed by the sound of my keyboard, rattling paper and co-workers closing desk drawers. But there’s nothing like the sound of metal falling on concrete, which is what I heard as raindrops hit my car when I was driving during one of our recent monsoon downpours. Oh yeah, I hear that clanging sound pretty frequently. Many times, I can’t even identify the source of the sound.
I have the rest of the month to figure out whether I want to keep Ralph and Louie redux or go back to the original pair. I hate to say this, but I need to spend more time in meetings and noisy restaurants before I feel like I’ve given them a good test. I will have to choose which pair to keep. My hearing isn’t going to get any better, so I need to use every tool at my disposal to function well.
Fran Parker is a health promotions specialist at the Mesa County Health Department.