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Hearing aids retuned for Baby Boomers

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Makers of heading aids are marketing - and making - hearing aids tuned specifically to the rock and roll impaired hearing of Baby Boomers.

These hearing aid manufacturers include some you've heard of, such as Beltone, and some you haven't, such as GN Resound. The latter are start-ups who are looking to redefine not only the technology of the devices but undo the stigma associated with the devices.

The stigma is that hearing aids are for old people. And even though Baby Boomers are aging into their 60s, they certainly don't consider themselves as being old, nor do they want to be seen as looking old. But the inability to hear can lead to a sense of isolation and, in some cases, depression as a result.

Statistics show that about 36 million Americans have hearing loss. But only one in five, who could be helped by a hearing aid, actually have the device. Hearing loss is a natural part of aging, and there’s debate as to whether Baby Boomers are more prone to hearing loss and whether it occurs earlier.

A University of Wisconsin-Madison study contends Baby Boomers survived their rock-and-roll years with their hearing intact. A study by Siemans says Baby Boomers are in denial about the onset of hearing loss.

But the stigma attached to hearing aids remains a consequence for Baby Boomers.

Enter technology, which has enabled makers to reduce the size of the devices (to the point where they're almost invisible) and has enabled users to fine tune their devices using an app on their smartphones.

Cool is beginning to trump stigma.

Some models, for example, use the phone’s GPS to detect where you are. If it's a place, such as a bar, that’s been preprogrammed into the app, it automatically makes adjustment to the hearing aid to compensate for the noisy surroundings.

Using a Bluetooth connection to the phone, hearing aids can serve as headphones to listen to your playlist of Sixties music.

Some devices even act as fashion statements, using style and bold colors to stand out, not hide.

But the devices are still relatively expensive - in the $2,300 to $3,000 range for a single device, and most insurance doesn’t cover the cost.

Then there are the so-called “personal sound amplification devices.” Priced at between $350 and $500 they are not regulated as hearing aids are by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. They look like Bluetooth headsets that simply amplify sound into the ear.

There are options that should appeal even to the most vain and stubborn Baby Boomers. You may be able to fake that you understand your spouse, but you really, really do want to be able to understand what your granddaughter or grandson is telling you.

The first step is getting your hearing tested. The online tests only go so far; go see a professional. The rest is just figuring out the best option and admitting to yourself that being able to hear - even if it requires a little help - is better than the eventual isolation of growing silence.

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