By Bob Ciminel
May 19, 2006
What started me worrying about growing old was that I finally heeded my wife's advice and bought a pair of hearing aids. To me, nothing signifies aging like needing hearing aids. According to my paradigm of life, young people may need to correct their vision, and middle-aged men may need angioplasty or heart bypass surgery, but only "old" people need hearing aids. The fact that you ride around the house on a scooter, or need to wear diapers, can be totally unrelated to your age. Hearing aids, however, definitely tell the world you are an "old fart." That is why I waited until the technology advanced to the point where hearing aids are practically invisible.
My hearing loss started in the Sixties when I was diagnosed with impairment in the audible higher frequency ranges (used primarily by speech and music) while serving in the Navy. As a member of the engineering gang, I was exposed to machinery noise almost constantly, particularly when running diesel engines and air compressors. The Navy provided ear muffs, but we were too cool to wear them. Besides, one of the first clues that something is amiss on a submarine is a strange sound, the most important being the sound of running water. We were convinced the ear muffs would hinder our ability to hear the gurgle that little leaks make before they become big leaks.
I could have asked the Navy to provide me with hearing aids, but back then they were still using those brass trumpet-looking things you stick in your ear and say, "Eh?" I suppose I could have gone to the Veterans Administration after I was discharged and gotten a new, improved hearing aid - a brass trumpet coated with varnish so it wouldn't turn green. Instead, I opted to break all ties with the government and tough it out.
My new hearing aids are digital. I don't know what that means as far as hearing aids go, but my son, who received a $60,000 education in music recording, says that digital sound is merely a sample of real sound. I know he's right. Many years ago I took a course in noise monitoring for nuclear power plants and part of the course was a theoretical nightmare explaining how a sinusoidal wave can be digitized using what is called a "Fourier Transform." When we asked the instructor to put that in terms a power plant operator could understand, he said it was simply called sampling, and the quality of the digital reproduction was only as good as the sampling rate. I don't know if my hearing aids do Fourier Transforms, or if the term "digital" simply means they are either on or off, but I do know that my hearing is better than it was before.
The hearing aids were not cheap, and although I am one of the lucky individuals who are covered by a health insurance plan at work, it does not cover hearing aids. It will cover glasses and contacts, but not hearing aids. It makes no sense to me; why not spend a few cents on the other senses?
So far, the only thing about
my new hearing aids that challenges me is changing the batteries,
which only last about a week. The batteries are really tiny;
two of them would fit on the end of my little finger. They go
into a little trap door on each hearing aid, and the positive
side has to be facing up. The tiny battery has an even tinier
plus sign on one side. This is where the technology begins falling
apart. Besides loss of hearing, the other two challenges most
elderly folks face is macular degeneration (loss of near vision)
and problems with their fine motor skills (the ability to thread
a needle), two assets you really need in your quality of life
portfolio when it's time to change the batteries in your hearing
He assumes informed readers will be able to tell the difference. Bob lives in Roswell, Georgia, and works for the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations. He is also a conductor on the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway.
Contact Bob at firstname.lastname@example.org