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I'm 48 and I Need Hearing Aids

And I'm tired of people telling me I'm too young.

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When I was younger, I watched my father struggle with heart disease, and I vowed not to let that happen to me. So I became a health nut. I’ve tried every gym class you can think of, from aerial yoga to Zumba. I’ve run marathons and practiced so much yoga I became a teacher. I’ve eaten fish two times a week, snacked on walnuts, and bought one of those blenders that is so powerful it makes my walls shake. I defend my red wine habit because I feel I’ve got research on my side. I stay up to date on all my health screenings.

So last summer when I couldn’t hear a thing my 8-year old niece said, I knew I needed a hearing test. But I didn’t have any other symptoms. I could hear well in everyday conversations. Eating at restaurants didn’t bother me. I wasn’t cutting back on my social calendar because of my hearing. So I put off getting tested.

And then one day I read about a study about hearing loss and dementia that changed my mind. Dementia runs in my family, so I pay attention to this type of stuff. While researchers are still trying to figure out cause and effect in the relationship between the two, one of the theories I see a lot is that people with hearing loss skip out on social activities when they can’t hear well, and that affects the brain. Since that wasn’t me, I wasn’t too concerned.

But this story was different, and it scared me. One expert threw out a theory that our brains need the stimulation that comes from healthy hearing, and people with hearing loss may be doing damage to their brains in small ways, day in and out, that might lead to changes in the brain.

Bottom line: Even if your social calendar is booked, hearing loss may affect your brain health.

I called an audiologist that afternoon and got the next appointment. Turns out, I have mild to moderate hearing loss and could benefit from hearing aids. When I learned how much they cost, I hesitated, but I decided my brain needed the stimulation, so I bought my first pair. They are tiny, light devices that connect to my smartphone via Bluetooth.

The first time I wore them was at a big team lunch at work. I was shocked at how much more I enjoyed the meal without having to strain or pretend I had heard something. Next, I tried them at a happy hour and a brunch, to the same effect. Despite thinking I had no problems hearing in restaurants, I realize now that I did. So now I actually look forward to using them every time I have a group event. And I can’t wait to try them the next time I see my niece.

I still haven’t started wearing them every day, though. To be honest, I’m struggling with having a condition that is so stigmatized in a youth-obsessed culture. A small, and irrational, part of me worries that if I truly embrace this hearing loss, I’m acknowledging the beginning of age-related decline. It doesn’t help matters that when I first told people I was getting hearing aids, many of my family and friends questioned my decision and told me I was “too young” to need them.

But I shouldn’t struggle. The World Health Organization just announced that nearly half of all people ages 12 to 35, or 1.1 billion people, are at risk of hearing loss due to “prolonged and excessive exposure to loud sounds."

One of my friends, who's my age, got a hearing aid a few years ago, and she just shrugs off the ageist comments and encourages me to do the same. I’ll get there, because in the end, I know that keeping my brain healthy is just as important to me as keeping my heart healthy.

One thing I have learned from this experience: I will never tell anyone that they’re “too young” to do anything, especially to take care of themselves. And I’ve created the perfect response to the naysayers: I am pretty sure that my love of music has had a greater impact on my hearing than the number of years I’ve gone around the sun.

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