Suppose you are mountain climbing, and you need to communicate with your climbing partner who is out of sight. How do you do it? You use your voice to communicate, which he receives through his hearing. There is no visual communication. How many other less dramatic examples can you think of in your day? Someone at the door, your spouse is downstairs, the kids need help in the other room, two people cooking in the same kitchen…these are all sound-specific communications that just won’t work in any other way.
In the movie business, the sound is described as what pulls the viewer forward and sight is what pushes. If you carefully watch a film, you will often notice how the sound for the next scene presages the visuals of a scene. It is similar in life; the sound is what often gets our attention first, pulling our eyes to explore its origin. Seeing is confined to the area directly in front of us. Hearing, on the other hand, is 360 degrees around us. It is also the only sense that is on alert virtually continuously — it is most often an unexpected noise that will wake us from sleep, not our vision.
But what happens when this essential sense is lessened, even slightly? I find it curious that even a slight decrease in vision will prompt an eye exam and a new prescription for glasses; but a change in hearing, unless cataclysmic, is viewed as something one can tolerate. Why is this? Why is there no shame with wearing glasses, but there is with what is essentially the same performance enhancement with our hearing.
These are not your grandfather’s hearing aids
I suspect this has to do with a combination of many factors. Previously, hearing aids were ugly, didn’t perform well, and were associated with a stigma. But there have been tremendous advances in the technology of hearing aids. They have been miniaturized to an almost unnoticeable size, and the sound gathering technology in them has vastly improved. These are no longer your grandfather’s hearing aids. For a look at some cutting-edge examples, check out Eargo.
So many of my friends, many of whom wear glasses, have obvious hearing issues, but will deny it (“My hearing is fine.”). As someone who used to enjoy the sheer sonic intensity of drag races and the Ramones at CBGBs, there is no way my hearing had escaped the folly of my younger years completely intact. Although I have felt I had generally good hearing, I have discovered that I have lost some of my higher-frequency sensitivity — even though for the last 30 or so years, I have been exceedingly vigilant around any loud sounds. However, you cannot repair earlier damage to your hearing. Once the cilia in the ear — the tiny hairs that play a critical part in hearing — are damaged, that’s it, they are gone, never to return.
If you are over 50, there is a very good chance you have some decline in your ability to hear. You may want to get your ears checked (Eargo offers a quick, handy hearing check here) as you may discover that there is a lot of the beauty of life you are missing out on.