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Winter's Tale: What a dolphin and a little girl teach us about hearing aids

Being born with hearing loss made 10-year-old McKenna McGough feel like a fish out of water. "Lots of my friends didn't have hearing aids, and it made me feel really uncomfortable about it," the Rowlett, TX girl told the Dallas-Forth Worth TV station KXAS.

So maybe it was fitting that encouragement to wear her hearing aids openly and without embarrassment came from the water as well, namely from an injured dolphin named Winter.

On a trip to the Clearwater, FL Marine Aquarium two years ago, McKenna met Winter, who lost her tail in a crab trap. Seeing the dolphin being fitted with a prosthetic tail was all the inspiration the little girl needed. "She's helped me in not being afraid to be different," McKenna said. "She's not shy to show her stump, so why should I be shy to show my hearing aid?"

That’s the spirit, McKenna. Hopefully other folks can draw inspiration from that spunky attitude too.

winter the dolphin inspires
Winter is an inspiration to many (photo courtesy McGough family via NBCDFW.com)

Hearing loss - A widespread problem

Hearing loss is one of the most common age-related conditions. Untreated, it can affect relationships, social interactions, earning ability, and even safety. The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders estimates that one in 10 people in the United States have hearing loss; one in three are over 65. Yet, Better Hearing Institute says that there are currently more than 24 million people in this country who have untreated hearing loss.

Studies show that these people cite many reasons for not getting help. Some of these reasons, such as the high cost of the device – ranging from $1,000 to 4,000 – are valid, especially in the slumping economy (although it should be noted that if you calculate the initial cost of the aid over several years of use, the price per day is a very affordable $3.)

The other reasons cited for the refusal to wear hearing aids are more psychological than rational. Here’s a round-up of some of them.

Lame excuses

By “psychological” we mean the imaginary stigma attached to hearing aids, as well as illogical reasons we hatch in our heads, rather than ones based on fact. For example:

  • Denial: How many times have you heard (or maybe uttered) the “I-can-hear-just-fine” argument, while it is painfully obvious to both the hearing impaired person and his / her entourage that this is not the case. If you or someone you know strains to hear a conversation, a hearing aid is clearly needed. No ifs, ands, or buts.
  • Association with disability and / or age: Far too many people refuse to wear hearing aids because they believe (mistakenly, of course) that they will be perceived as disabled, old – or both. There is absolutely no truth to this argument. Hearing impairment is not a disability, period. And while it is true that this condition is more prevalent among older people, anyone, at any age, can have hearing loss. Just look at McKenna.
  • Fear of change: Numerous studies demonstrate that, as we age, we are less willing to embrace change or remain open to new experiences. To many people, wearing a device such as a hearing aid represents new technology – more of a burden than a blessing.
  • Cosmetic considerations: True, hearing aids of yesteryear were clunky eyesores. No argument there. But this was then. Today, the in-the-ear models are so tiny, they are nearly invisible.

Thumbs up for hearing aids

Okay, now that we debunked all the myths and misconceptions commonly associated with hearing aids, let's talk about all the reasons why you SHOULD wear one.

We are sure it doesn't come as a news flash to you that hearing aids have been proven, time and again, to enhance not only your hearing, but the quality of your life in general.

Many studies (too numerous to mention here) have clearly demonstrated the link between good hearing and physical and mental well-being. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out why that is. If you can't listen to and participate in social interactions, the quality of your life suffers. When, on the other hand, your hearing improves, so do your relationships, earning power, personal safety, and overall happiness – even if you don't get friendly with a dolphin.

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