My high-tech hearing aids

stone_deaf.jpgAbout ten years ago (I’m 57) I noticed I was starting to have trouble understanding people in places where there was a lot of background noise — pubs, coffeehouses, parties, etc. I noticed that it helped to watch their lips when they were speaking.

Each time I went in for a hearing check, I was told my that my hearing in the high-frequency range was diminishing, making it increasingly difficult to hear the consonants in people’s speech, important for understanding many words. Background noise, of course, makes it even more difficult. But I wasn’t at the point where hearing aids would help.

I finally reached the point a year ago when I knew I was ready. A trip to the UK did it, as the English accent and noisy train stations put me over the edge.

So I made an appointment with Dr. Samira Anderson at Northfield’s Allina Medical Clinic and she confirmed that I was indeed ready. I tried a relatively inexpensive pair (less than $1,000) for a week or two; then another pair in the $2,500 range for a couple of weeks. Better but not great. And then she told that a new model was just released ($5,500) and suggested I try them. Voila!

IMG_6134.JPGThe photo (click to enlarge) shows my Phonak Savia hearing aids, with a remote control device on the left that I keep in my pocket and the accompanying watch that has the same remote controls on it. The hearing aids are fully programmable and the remote devices allow me to further control them for different situations. In addition to the default setting, my remotes have a special setting for phone use (so that pressing a phone receiver against my ear doesn’t trigger the high-pitched shriek); another setting for noisy backgrounds; a third for outdoor wind; and a volume control.

Why am I blogging this here?

When I finally got over my ego problems at having hearing aids (geezer!) and began showing them to people, I was amazed at how many people (baby boomer guys, primarily) admitted to having the same hearing difficulty and had no idea that this technology existed. I now think of them no differently than my reading glasses. And if a battery runs out in the middle of a meeting, I swap it right in front of everyone, just like pulling out a kleenex and wiping smudges off my glasses. No big deal.

So this blog post is a public service announcement.

One more thing: Be careful of loud music. And always wear earplugs when riding a motorcycle.


  1. Chip Cuccio said:

    Griff wrote:

    I was amazed at how many people (baby boomer guys, primarily) admitted to having the same hearing difficulty and had no idea that this technology existed

    Don’t forget about the relatively young folks who queried you, Griff. I was amazed at those devices when you were showing them to me, and had no idea that they existed either.

    All I need to do now, is pony up and go to the doc.

    Echoing Griff: wear earplugs. I didn’t – back in my musician days, and now in my 30’s I can barely hear.

    January 27, 2007
  2. Tracy Davis said:

    Griff’s pretty hot even if he IS a 57-year-old hearing-impaired geezer. Plus, technology is sexy.

    January 27, 2007
  3. Tyson Wigley said:

    Keep an eye on that remote control. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been tempted to mess with you when I’ve seen that thing lying around the house.

    Old man!


    January 27, 2007
  4. Griff Wigley said:

    You’re right, Chip. I have talked to quite a few guys in their 30s and 40s who are in your situation.

    Tracy, I appreciate that. I’ll remind Robbie.

    Tyson, you’ll probably enjoy putting grease on the feet of my walker in a few years, too. Sadist!

    January 28, 2007
  5. Great post. I’m a guy in my 30s and I’ve been using two of the same aids for almost a year, having lost a lot of hearing because of premature aging (long story, but that’s it in a nutshell). They’re fabulous – though I’m not sure they’re exactly sexy (the things your ear manufactures to try and kick them out…).

    January 29, 2007
  6. Griff Wigley said:

    True, Christopher, they’re not babe magnets.

    But the techie-ness of them helps when showing them off — with an attitude of humorous self-deprecation! Or so I tell myself.

    I’m a happily married man of 33 years, but if I was single and on the prowl, I’d use them to my advantage.

    “Excuse me, but let me dial you in with my remote so I can make sure I hear your every word.”

    What woman doesn’t want to be listened to?

    January 29, 2007
  7. Christopher said:

    Oh, that’s a good line. I’ll adapt it for use with my wife (and daughters, when they’re old enough to care/be bothered): “Well, honey, the audiologist programmed these devices specifically for your voice…”

    January 29, 2007
  8. Nick Benson said:

    I’m holding off for the upgrade that has Bluetooth integration with my iPod and the ability to hear what others are thinking.

    January 31, 2007
  9. Griff Wigley said:

    A friend of a friend emailed me several questions about hearing aids. Here’s my reply, in case it’s helpful to anyone else:

    Hi Paul,

    1. I met with an audiologist the first time and she had all the hearing aids for me to test. I’m doing that again. I expect to test 3 models from different manufacturers over the next few months before I make a decision and purchase a pair. I think this is a much better way to go, ie, find a trusted medical provider and not a hearing aid vendor. I can’t guarantee a Eureka moment, tho I did have one for the first pair.

    2. I only had one remote control with my first pair. It didn’t require constant adjustment but it was helpful to switch to a special setting for certain conditions, eg, phone, noisy background, wind, etc. The one I’m testing now has the option of NOT using a remote, as it’s supposed to be smart enough to adapt to changing conditions. It has a volume control knob on the hearing aid itself that works well.

    3. The batteries on my first pair would last about 3-4 days. The ones on this pair are supposed to last a week. So far so good. Yes, you need to carry spare batteries. On my first pair of hearing aids, the batteries beeped once about 5 minutes before they died. Not sure about these new ones.

    4. I was initially bummed at the purchase of my first pair. Yes, it was a big quality of life improvement but A) my ego took a hit (“shit, I’m a geezer!”); and B) I could have purchased a very nice motorcycle for $5,500.

    5. Pep talk. After I got my first pair, I soon figured out that not hearing well had been hurting my relationships and affecting my ability to have fun. People knew I needed them and of course, never said anything (my wife did, of course!) but you can bet they were thinking: He’s such a doofus for trying to hide his obvious hearing problem.

    And I decided that hearing aids were no different than reading glasses, so I even started changing batteries right in the middle of meetings and talking to people, just like putting on reading glasses. “Hold on, I’m a geezer, I gotta change batteries,” I’d joke and inevitably people would laugh and get interested/ask questions. And as often as not, guys my age would say “Oh man, I’m going to need those soon.” So like a recovering alcoholic, I figured I could be a little helpful to others by putting my ego aside and manning up.

    With my new pair, I’m lucky to have a wife who’s been socking away money in a medical reimbursement account. So the financial hit is not an issue this time. But beyond that, I’m excited for some new technology (Bluetooth for my cell phone and TV; loop technology for train stations, airports, etc). And I’m grateful to live in a digital age where health-related tools like hearing aids help to keep me as engaged and active as ever.

    Hope that helps. Let me know what follow-up questions you have.

    January 4, 2012

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