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I Don't Need a Hearing Aid!

Dr. Ruth tells us why men are in denial

spinner image Speak Up! Why Men Resist Hearing Aids
Men often find hearing loss harder to accept.
Getty Images

The jokes are funny:
Three men out walking, and one says: “Windy, isn’t it?”
Second replies: “No, it’s Thursday!”
Third responds: “So am I. Let’s get a beer.”

The reality is not:

Forty percent of 55- to 74-year-olds suffer from age-related hearing loss, according to the International Journal of Audiology. Eighty percent of those who would benefit from hearing aids don’t use them. Up to 25 percent of those who actually have hearing aids don’t wear them, men more than women.

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Why do people resist hearing aids?

There are practical reasons: Hearing aids don’t always work perfectly, particularly in crowds. They, and the required batteries, can be very expensive. Inserting and removing them and adjusting the volume demand a digital dexterity that challenges some older users. They can be uncomfortable, with irritation sometimes leading to infections.

But in many cases, emotional reasons are the real issue. Hearing aids undeniably symbolize not only aging, but a decrease in an important functionality. Glasses don’t compare, since young people also wear them. Walkers do, which is precisely why many who require them similarly avoid using them, or opt for wheelchairs, which can imply injury as easily as decline.

Why are men more avoidant than women?

Men don’t age more slowly than women, but they may adjust to it more slowly. They’re less likely to color their hair or make use of cosmetic surgery. For many men, hearing aids are their first artificial enhancement, not merely the latest. Plus, men’s hair typically does not hide the aids as well as a woman’s does.

Men aren’t more vain than women, but they may be more concerned with maintaining an image of vitality and potency. Especially if they continue working as they age, anything that threatens that image inevitably jeopardizes their position and power in the world.

Indeed, that power can make it easier for men to maneuver without a hearing aid — at least initially. If you’re the boss, you can determine the volume of the conversation. You can choose a quieter restaurant. You can ensure the video presentation will be audible to you.

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If you’re the boss, you don’t plead: “I’m sorry, can you say that again?” You say, “Speak up! I can’t hear you!” In short, if you’re the boss, and you can’t hear them, it’s their problem, not yours.

You might also be the boss at home, which means that your wife or partner, children and friends may similarly accommodate you. No one has the courage to point out that your hearing loss has become a problem.

And that’s a shame because no matter how powerful you are in the office or at home, you can’t completely control your environment. So without necessarily realizing why, you’re likely to begin declining invitations to the theater, concerts, movies, celebrations at noisy restaurants, even weddings. Since you have a hard time following what’s being said at those gatherings you do attend, you don’t know what’s transpiring in others’ lives. 

Invariably, you become more isolated, just at a time in your life when you need the support of friends and family more than ever before.

Hearing aids are not the elixir of youth. They’re imperfect and expensive. But by compensating for one almost unavoidable consequence of aging, they help keep you connected and involved. And that’s priceless.

Ruth Westheimer is a lecturer, therapist and best-selling author.

Isaac Steven Herschkopf is a lecturer, author and award-winning psychiatrist.

Neither receives compensation from hearing aid companies.