Why You Should Get Hearing Aids

By Temma Ehrenfeld  @temmaehrenfeld
March 20, 2023
Why You Should Get Hearing Aids

Hearing well isn’t a luxury. Hearing aids are one of the simplest and least expensive ways to lower several risks as you age. Here's what you should know.

In a noisy world, we underestimate the damage noise can do, thinking our hearing is better than it is. In fact, in one report, almost 40 percent of U.S. adults have some trouble hearing.  

Hearing loss seems to aggravate a long list of age-related troubles, yet you can take a simple step to improve your odds — get hearing aids.

Yet as little as 16 percent of Americans ages 20 to 69 who could use hearing aids have them. The same is true for about 30 percent of those aged 70 and older. By age 75 and up, half the population has disabling hearing loss.


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When we miss honking horns and urgent knocks on the door, untreated hearing loss is dangerous. But the dangers can be less noticeable.  

A large study of Americans age 66 and older compared what happens after you are diagnosed with hearing loss for the first time and sought treatment. Over three years, people who used hearing aids were less likely to be diagnosed with dementia (by 18 percent) or depression or anxiety (by 11 percent). They had a 13 percent lower risk of injuries from falls compared to people who didn’t treat their hearing loss.

Untreated hearing loss can affect your cognition

Many older adults are afraid of losing their mental prowess. Wearing a hearing aid is one relatively easy way to cut your risk.

In a University of Oxford study with 82,000 participants 60 and older, those who had trouble hearing speech in a noisy environment had almost twice the chance of developing dementia in the next 11 years.

Even a slight hearing loss, such as trouble hearing someone whisper, is linked to lower scores on tests of cognition, other researchers found.

In a classic study from Johns Hopkins, researchers found that people with mild, moderate, and severe hearing loss have a two, three, and five-fold increased chance of developing dementia, respectively.

Untreated hearing loss can increase the risk of falls

Balance, which declines with age, is directly connected to hearing, sharing a common nerve pathway. People with poor balance may especially benefit from the sounds around them, which help them orient themselves.

One study of people aged 40 to 69 found that even a mild loss triples your chance of falling. Meanwhile, hearing aids cuts your risk of a fall-related injury.  

Untreated hearing loss can lead to social isolation and loneliness

Most age-related hearing loss occurs in the high-frequency ranges. In English, those ranges tend to contain the consonants, which makes it easy to confuse, say, "bat" with "cat." So, you think your spouse is mumbling when you’re the problem.

In one study, about two-thirds of people living with a hearing-impaired partner complained that their conversations had suffered. Another bad sign is when high-pitched grandkids grate on your nerves.

You may worry that a hearing aid will make you look or feel old. But misunderstanding conversations isn’t flattering either; once you’re past a certain age, people suspect you of marble-loss.

Hearing loss tends to make us talk too loudly and dominate conversations because it’s easier to talk than listen. Over time, friends retreat. Spouses often end up feeling socially isolated, too, a study literature review found.

Ask yourself:  

  • Do you often ask people to repeat what they say?
  • Have trouble hearing in groups?
  • Think others mumble?
  • Fail to hear someone talking from behind you?
  • Turn up the volume on the TV or car radio?
  • Have difficulty on the phone?
  • Have trouble hearing your alarm clock?
  • Have difficulty hearing at the movies?
  • Dislike or dread noisy parties and restaurants?
  • Fail to hear a dripping faucet or high notes of violins?

For a quick test, try this online screen. iPhone owners can download the free app uHear. But it’s important to get checked by a doctor, since you may need wax removed or, in rare cases, could have a tumor in your middle or inner ear.  

The cost of hearing aids

Prices for hearing devices range from under a $100 to an average cost of $2,000 to $7,000 for two aids. At Costco, for example, you can get a hearing test and two premium aids for around $1,600.

Medicare and many insurers do not cover the cost of hearing aids, though the Veterans Administration does.

For people with mild-to-moderate hearing loss, over-the-counter hearing aids may be a place to start. They’re available online or in stores like Best Buy and Walgreens.

Some evidence suggests that you’ll have a hard time finding the right hearing aid for you. But the experience might give you a hint of what better hearing could do for you. That might be your cue to graduate to working with an audiologist and spending more.

You can pay for a hearing aid with a pre-tax flexible spending account employee benefit. Buying one aid is better than none. Although most people with loss in both ears do better with two aids, 10 to 20 percent may hear better with just one.

As the Baby Boomers age, more entrepreneurs may chase a growing market and cut prices. Hearing aids are simpler devices than laptops. Based on the electronics alone, you shouldn’t need to pay more than perhaps $250 for one aid. 

Most of the cost comes from markups to cover the time an audiologist spends with you. For now, you can’t typically pay an audiologist by the hour, but you can get a hearing test for free or a nominal sum.

Don’t fall into the trap of buying a hearing aid to please your family and leaving it in the drawer. If your hearing loss is mild — and you’re retired and not often in restaurants or theaters — you might consider baby steps, like a drugstore aid or other options.

Personal sound amplifiers help people hear things that are at a low volume or a distance — for example, children at the other end of the yard. Apps let you amplify sound with your smartphone and earbuds. Portable wireless devices and earphones make it easier to hear a TV or stereo. Consider amplified telephones and doorbells.


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March 20, 2023

Reviewed By:  

Christopher Nystuen, MD, MBA and Janet O'Dell, RN