Getting old is not for the weak, the fearful and the timid. Here’s one of the many reasons.

I have had a hearing problem for a long time. Like everything at our age, it is gradual and progressive — nice talk for ‘it only gets worse’. It has become a big challenge for me in my daily life and it has become impossible to ignore.

Until a few days ago, my life was becoming smaller and lonelier. I avoided noisy restaurants, big groups of people, cocktail parties, sporting events and concerts.  TV and music, movies and concerts, plays and theatre all became less enjoyable.  When you can’t hear the music, follow the dialogue or discern the nuances of the actor’s voices, the joy isn’t there.

I was constantly asking people to repeat what they had just said. My contribution to conversations became: “Excuse me?” “Sorry?” “Could you say that again?” or “What?”  Even telephone conversations were challenging.

When I couldn’t hear what was going on, I slapped on a big grin, pretended to hear  and nodded sagely at appropriate pauses in the conversation. When someone asked me a question, I responded, usually inappropriately. I didn’t necessarily touch on the topic under discussion or answer what may or may not have been the question. Talking to me became like Abbott and Costello’s Who’s on First sketch.

Why didn’t I do anything? Vanity. I had decided in my 60s that if I wore a hearing aid I would be old.  Worse, Women would consider me well beyond my best-before date. Being single and wearing a hearing aid would forever consign me to the scrap heap of the aging and infirm. The next stop: Depends for men.

When my poor hearing became intolerable, I went to an audiologist. The test results told us both what I already knew. I had experienced a declining hearing capacity shared by millions. We discussed the causes: Some of it was ordinary aging; some, the direct result of summer jobs in factories and oil-drilling rigs surrounded by whining diesels operating at intolerable decibel levels by contemporary standards. Real men didn’t wear earplugs.

My hearing loss was calculated as moderately severe. The audiologist suggested in-canal hearing aids for both ears, had the brochures ready and offered a trial set. “Try these for two weeks — no charge, no obligation”, she said. I did what any manly man would do.  I bolted for the door. Vanity prevailed and I struggled for another year.

Research shows the average delay from the onset of hearing loss to solution is seven to nine years. A year later, I swallowed my pride, and it tasted bitter.

I went back. The audiologist tested me again and recorded a slight deterioration from  the previous visit. This time I stayed, put down the money and got fitted for hearing aids.

I bought the top-of-the-line model, custom-fitted inside my ear.  There’s a little plastic tube that leads to a very small microphone transmitter that sits behind my ear, and it is a technological wonder. It can focus on the speaker I want to hear and accentuate that sound while diminishing background noise.

It takes some concentration to stay focused but I can now hear in situations that previously vexed me.  I can talk to a dinner companion in a noisy restaurant.  I can hear the lyrics in a concert and on a CD.  I can go to movies and hear all the dialogue.  I can engage in a conversation around a dinner table. I have Bluetooth which means I can connect my BlackBerry to my hearing aids and hear through them.

It takes a bit of time. There is more noise coming into my brain than there has been for a long time and I’m tired after a long day.  There are things in my ear and that took some time to get used to.  I have to take care of this high-priced piece of technology.  But the benefits are boundless.

So, fellow travellers on the sad road to invisibility, do as Dylan Thomas recommended: “Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” Fight aging with every means at your disposal.

Here’s the kicker: I feel younger and more engaged when I can hear what’s going on.  People are less aware of my age when I’m not always saying ‘what?’.

A woman likes a man who listens to what she has to say, stays on topic because he has heard her, cares enough to want to hear her and will do anything to make that happen.

If I still haven’t convinced you, look at it this way: Showing our openness to self improvement with our hearing aids means showing our willingness to set aside our vanity and take advantage of every opportunity to enjoy life. It’s called maturity. Apparently women want to be around people like that.  Who knew?

Listen up: Get those hearing aids now. At our age, we don’t have any time to lose.