Mark Hammel's hearing was damaged in his 20s by machine gun fire when he served in the Israeli Army. But not until decades later, at 57, did he receive his first hearing aids.
"It was very joyful, but also very sad, when I contemplated how much I had missed all those years," Dr. Hammel, a psychologist in Kingston, N.Y., said in an interview. "I could hear well enough sitting face to face with someone in a quiet room, but in public, with background noise, I knew people were talking, but I had no idea what they were saying. I just stood there nodding my head and smiling.
"Eventually, I stopped going to social gatherings. Even driving, I couldn't hear what my daughter was saying in the back seat. I live in the country, and I couldn't hear the birds singing.
"People with hearing loss often don't realize what they're missing," he said. "So much of what makes us human is social contact, interaction with other human beings. When that's cut off, it comes with a very high cost."
And the price people pay is much more than social. As Dr. Hammel now realizes, "the capacity to hear is so essential to overall health."
Hearing loss is one of the most common conditions affecting adults, and the most common among older adults. An estimated 30 million to 48 million Americans have hearing loss that significantly diminishes the quality of their lives — academically, professionally and medically as well as socially.
One person in three older than 60 has life-diminishing hearing loss, but most older adults wait five to 15 years before they seek help, according to a 2012 report in Healthy Hearing magazine. And the longer the delay, the more one misses of life and the harder it can be to adjust to hearing aids.