Most of us probably know someone who can’t hear very well and doesn’t use hearing aids. It can be frustrating trying to have a conversation with that person. particularly in a group setting, like a dinner table or in a restaurant. They say “what?” and you repeat, but they still don’t hear you much. Can you do anything about this? Maybe. It depends on why some aging parents will or won’t accept wearing hearing aids.

Why do folks resist hearing aids?

Hearing aids used to cost thousands of dollars and Medicare never did cover them. You had to get an in-person test and a prescription. You had to have the money to pay for them. That has now changed. As of October 22, 2022, the Food and Drug Administration ruled that you can now buy over the counter hearing aids without a prescription or professional fitting. That is very helpful, considering that at least 50% of people over age 75 have hearing loss that interferes with daily life.

But money isn’t the only reason why some older folks refuse to get or wear hearing aids. A larger reason we hear about at AgingParents.com, where we advise families about age-related issues, is pride, ego or refusal to accept that one has a hearing impairment. It can be a sign of aging that some deny is happening.

A personal experience

An example was in my mother-in-law, Alice, whose hearing was getting progressively worse after age 80. By her late 80’s it was getting quite hard to be in a conversation with her and she kept saying she didn’t think she had a problem with her hearing. Well, she admitted, finally, “maybe just a little”. We tried peer pressure. We sat down with her and her two best friends, a couple who lived in her community. We asked Alice if she thought she ever missed any of the conversation among them as friends. She said maybe she did. We pressed her, asking how much she thought she missed of what others said because of her hearing. She said “about 10% maybe”. We then asked the friends what percentage they thought she missed in ordinary conversation. They both said “about 80%”. Alice was shocked! But that motivated her to get hearing aids. At the time she did have to shell out about $4000 to get them and she did wear them. They made a world of difference in her life and ours. We were fortunate. Alice admitted that she might have needed them sooner but she didn’t want to look “old”by wearing them. Never mind she lived in a retirement community where everyone was “old”. Let’s just say it’s not rational, but served as a justification in her mind at that time to not do anything about hearing loss.

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How do you find a good over the counter product?

In trying to decide what hearing aids will work best for your aging parent or other loved one, we recommend reading the publication on this subject by the National Council on Aging. This nonprofit organizations used a review team to explore what the marketplace has to offer. Their article explains the differences between non-prescription and prescription hearing aids and what hearing problems are not suitable for an over the counter product. What I liked about their information was that their review team looked at a variety of products from an unbiased point of view and published its conclusions. The best and most affordable products for 2022 are listed here.

The takeaways

  1. If the cost of hearing aids was a barrier, the FDA has changed that to the extent that a loved one’s hearing loss is correctable by an over the counter product. They are much less expensive now than they were a few months ago.
  2. Not every hearing loss can be fixed with a non-prescription hearing aid. An exam by an audiologist can be helpful in figuring that out. Without any in-person hearing test, the kind of product one buys is sometimes a guess that it’s right. At AgingParents.com, we recommend a professional hearing test so you don’t end up wasting money.
  3. Getting your aging loved one to actually wear the hearing aids is another matter altogether. It’s not like putting on a pair of glasses and suddenly the world is much clearer. Hearing aids take getting used to. They take adjustment to putting something on every day. Some find them uncomfortable. And forgetful older folks can lose them, (common!), forget to put them on, forget to charge them, etc. An aging parent living alone may need family encouragement and support.
  4. Encourage your hard-of-hearing aging parent to check out what’s available now. Some hearing tests are available online. Show her the products and the costs. Encourage, rather than tell her what to do. Be supportive and acknowledge that it may be hard to get used to. Here’s wishing you success. It can change the quality of life for your loved one when they hear better.
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