Hearing loss. It’s a big deal, affecting 29 percent of people in their 50s, 45 percent in their 60s, and 68 percent in their 70s — and yet only 20 to 30 percent end up getting hearing aids.

Why? Cost, denial and the perceived stigma of aging are some of the answers.

And then there are the people who get hearing aids but don’t wear them.

What’s with that?

According to Debbie Bond, owner of American Hearing Aids in Stockton, it’s often because people are caught off guard at how noisy the world seems now, as their hearing has slowly faded.

The longer they wait, the more surprised they are at the noise level. Suddenly they can hear traffic noise, appliance sounds, even pages turning.

Not everyone can deal with the return of normal volume. Often, people are not willing to put in enough time to get used to the change, grumbling that there’s nothing worth hearing, anyway.

Bond, a licensed hearing aid dispenser, says we need to start intervention early, before it’s a big issue, because it can be too hard to adapt if we wait too long.

The world of hearing aids has changed.

“It was hard to make people happy 15 years ago,” Bond says. “Now it’s easy, with help coming from technology.”

You can even receive smartphone calls through your hearing aid, plus make your own adjustments with an app, turning off background noise or tweaking the volume.

Because I’ve been feeling a slight hearing loss myself, I scheduled an appointment. The process was easy and cost nothing (most audiologists offer free testing).

She ran three separate tests to determine my loss, then fitted me with hearing aids during the half hour we spent talking.

I liked them immediately. I do have mild hearing loss, and the sounds of the world opened up to me clearly. At the end of our conversation, I barely felt them in my ears.

Those particular hearing aids were top of the line. Generally, the price range for quality hearing aids is $1,500 to $6,000 per pair. Everyone needs to find what works for them, financially and physically, critical elements to our continuing to wear them and reaping the rewards.

However, here’s the most important part: It’s not just about the physical act of hearing more clearly — that’s a bonus, actually. What doctors and scientists have studied is how hearing loss relates to social isolation and loneliness, and an increased risk of dementia and depression.

When your brain has to work harder to process sound if you don’t hear well, your hearing nerves will send fewer signals to your brain. As a result, the brain declines.

Waiting too long to fix hearing loss can be devastating. Compared with people of normal hearing, those with moderate loss have triple the risk.

Katherine Griffin and Katherine Bouton, in an AARP article, write, “Being hard of hearing tends to isolate people from others. When you have to struggle to converse, you’re less likely to want to socialize in groups. And being socially isolated has long been recognized as a risk factor for cognitive decline and dementia.”

No one wants to be the person who’s no longer invited anywhere because everyone has to shout — or because you’ve become withdrawn and grouchy, not able to participate completely anymore.

If hearing aids keep your life fuller, shouldn’t you make that investment? Your spouse may thank you, too.

If you qualify as low income, a group called Starkey Hearing Foundation may help pay. Don’t let lack of funds stop you from changing your world (go to www.sotheworldmayhear. org for more detail). Debbie Bond works with this program, as do others in her field.

Lodi is home to several hearing aid centers, including Costco. Schedule a free exam and take a look at your options.

As for me, I’m looking forward to not having Closed Captioning taking up space on my TV screen, as well as hearing friends and family clearly in group situations.

If you’re a regular reader of my column, you know that my mother-in-law went through ten years of worsening dementia. It was too late for her to start using hearing aids. She wouldn’t have remembered to put them in or take them out or how to care for them.

I’ll never know whether it would have slowed her dementia, and I sure don’t wish her situation on anyone, so I’m game to try now. I want to preserve all the brain cells I can.

Susan Crosby is a Lodi author and member of the Lodi Senior Citizens Commission.

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