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Will Hearing Aids Ever Be Hip?

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But high cost and inconvenient access are not the only reasons many people who need hearing aids are unwilling to get them. I had gifted an elderly aunt an $8,000 pair years ago and they sat in a drawer unused. “They make me look old,” was her excuse, a common impediment to hearing aid use, even if unspoken.

Yet a similar concern doesn’t keep people with poor vision from wearing glasses. And modern digital hearing aids border on invisibility. They come in three main styles: behind-the-ear, in-the-ear and in-the-ear-canal. Sound is conveyed through a tiny speaker that fits inside the ear, attached by a barely visible wire to a very small flesh-colored “computer” containing a microphone, amplifier and battery that sits behind the ear.

My friend Michael Stoff, proprietor of an eyeglass shop in Brooklyn, who recently got hearing aids at age 64, said that for him, vanity is not an issue. “I just want to hear well — at dinner with friends, in the movies, the theater, when shopping or talking with customers,” he told me. “I’m realistic. If I was so interested in vanity, I’d be 50 pounds lighter!”

Mr. Stoff’s hearing aids, like most modern ones, connect to his television and cellphone via Bluetooth. He’s thrilled with the aids, which he purchased at Costco for $2,000, including all needed adjustments and counseling. “The sound is so crystal clear, it’s as if my ears are 15 years old,” he said.

When the new generation of over-the-counter hearing aids become available, they may look very much like the already popular AirPods that so many people of all ages now walk around with while listening to music and podcasts, and while making calls on their cellphones. Perhaps people might not even notice them.

Misplacing the tiny devices, however, is an issue for some people, especially those who are older. Hearing aids must be removed once a day and recharged, usually overnight. And unlike a water-resistant watch, hearing aids also must be kept dry, so they should be removed when showering or swimming.

Forewarned: Dr. Lin cautioned that “a lot of the cheap hearing assists currently sold in pharmacies are bad; they make speech harder to understand by amplifying the wrong sounds.” They are not hearing aids; they may raise the level of incoming sounds, but at the expense of clarity. But he gave a thumbs up to the hearing aids and services at Costco that cost $2,000 or less.


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