TikTok 'granfluencer' shares lessons on the importance of hearing aids
Hearing aids are just one way 86-year-old internet star stays young at heart
Elizabeth Gaylynn Baker never envisioned becoming an Internet celebrity at the age of 86. Yet thanks to her role as "Mabel" on Retirement House, a TikTok account with over 5.4 million followers, she’s enjoying her newfound stardom.
Retirement House features a cast of six characters, between the ages of 71 and 86, who are challenging stereotypes about aging, and having a lot of fun in the process. The show was the brainchild of two content creators in their twenties, Adi Azran and Brandon Chase, and stars Baker along with Patti Yulish (Bubbe), Chuck Lacey (Eugene), Monterey Morrissey (Larry), Jerry Boyd (Curtis), and Reatha Grey (Rose).
The semi-scripted series launched in 2021 and is streamed under @retirementhouse on TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and YouTube shorts. Their popular videos include skits on everything from advice to their younger selves to the importance of hearing aids. There’s even a Retirement House podcast.
Baker, who wears hearing aids, is a staunch advocate for hearing health. She remembers being diagnosed with hearing loss 20 years ago, and how she was horrified when her doctor suggestion she could benefit from hearing aids.
'I almost started crying'
“I thought hearing aids were clunky, visible devices that would make me look old and I never wanted to wear them,” she says. “I remember walking out of my doctor’s office in a huff. A few days later someone approached me and began talking and although I could see their mouth moving, I couldn’t hear what they were saying.”
Baker believes her body was telling her to pay attention. She returned to her doctor’s office and agreed to be fitted for hearing aids.
“The first thing I remember after walking outside wearing my new hearing aids was hearing the wind,” Baker says. “I almost started crying, I don’t know how long it had been since I was able to hear so clearly.”
Baker now wears Horizon Bluetooth hearing aids that she says are barely visible. On one episode of Retirement House, she tells her cast members they’re headed to Seattle. The only problem is none of them can accurately hear what she’s saying, and assume she’s warning them about a battle, which results in a hilarious interaction. At the end, an exasperated Baker asks if any of the cast are wearing their hearing aids.
While the skit is funny, Baker says it also sends an important message.
“I remember when my doctor told me about the correlation between a person’s hearing loss and their risk of developing dementia,” she says. “I was surprised to learn that wearing hearing aids can significantly reduce cognitive decline in older adults who are at a high risk of dementia.”
For Baker, maintaining a healthy lifestyle goes beyond addressing her hearing loss. She also stays fit by taking a Pilates class three times a week, and maintains a diet of organic, fresh foods.
“I started dancing when I was three years old and as an adult, I practiced yoga,” Baker says. “I’ve never exercised for longevity, but rather because I enjoy it. Today, exercising makes me feel young and revitalized, I think it’s so important to keep moving as we age.”
On Retirement House, Baker and the cast can often be seen dancing to the latest trends. There’s a sketch where they perform “the Griddy,” a football touchdown dance that went vital on TikTok in 2019. Then there’s the videos of Baker dancing on tabletops and more recently, on a beach in Bonaire.
'I'm hearing better than I have in years'
“We were given an all-expense paid trip to the Caribbean and I was on the beach wearing a bikini with a t-shirt,” Baker says. “People often tell women of a certain age they’re too old to wear a bikini, but I believe you should be comfortable in your own body, so I took off the t-shirt.”
Upon her return to Los Angeles, Baker knew her hearing aids would require cleaning and care after time on the beach. She went to Hearing Heal in Beverly Hills, Calif., owned by Wanda Eurasquin, a board-certified hearing instrument specialist and her daughter, Sonia Zavala, a registered nurse, and hearing instrument specialist.
“Sonia cleaned and reprogrammed my hearing aids and I’m not exaggerating when I say I’m hearing better than I have in years,” Baker says. “I truly appreciate her care and skill.”
Baker says her hearing aids allow her to be fully engaged, whether she’s enjoying a dinner with her son and friends, or writing and directing the documentary, We Know Not What We Do, about climate change. Baker published a book under the same name as the documentary and received a humanitarian award for her work on the film.
Looking toward the future, Baker is excited about how Retirement House continues to evolve and she’s looking forward to traveling with the cast to New York in early 2024. As the show enters their third year, she says the cast is committed to “turning aging on its ear.”
She recalls a recent episode, where tech mogul Brian Johnson appeared to have the cast try his new Kernel helmet, a wearable-device that tracks brain signals and can determine a person’s brain age.
“My brain age was 39, the youngest of any of the cast members,” Baker says proudly. “I plan to keep showing people that age is just a number and it’s never too late to live your dreams."