What's that you say? High-tech hearing aids may make a splash

earsTalk about out with the old and in with the new.

Despite the ubiquity of mobile-phone headsets, lots of people with hearing loss have just said no to hearing aids. Who wants the stigma, the sound problems and the high cost, right?

Hold the phone. A new generation of hearing aids allows users to install invisible devices deep in their ear canals for months at a time, according to an Associated Press story. They also can use Bluetooth-connected devices that make cell phone and iPod use easier, a challenging prospect until now. Good news for aging boomers who like their tech toys, right?

Well, there's even better news for swimming enthusiasts young and old with hearing loss: Lyric, the company that makes invisible hearing aids, is jumping into a much deeper pond by testing a new, swim-proof hearing aid. The device, which uses stronger coating to repel water, would allow swimmers to enjoy their sport at least three times a week without short-circuiting their hearing aids. About 60 swimmers are testing the devices beginning next month.

"I'm thrilled with the prospect of such hearing aids," said Ronald Dorfman, 58, a North Hollywood, Calif., swimmer who removes his older-generation hearing aids before doing laps. "If they work, I'm game."

He would be in rare company. Although 32.5 million American adults have some degree of hearing loss, according to the National Institutes of Health, only one in five people who would benefit from hearing aids uses them.

The reason? Vanity, for one.

"I resisted getting them for a long time because I felt they made me look older," Dorfman said. "But I found that I was missing a lot in conversations, so I finally relented."

Also, people with hearing loss often don't know they're sufferers. If you're in AARP territory, however, chances are you've experienced some hearing loss. One in three people 60 and older have some diminished hearing, according to federal statistics.

Cost is another factor. Hearing aids typically run from $1,500 to $3,300 per ear. Some insurance companies cover the costs, others don't. Medicare does not. The new extended-wear Lyrics, which remain in the ears for 120 days, cost $1,650 for each ear, per year, including the fitting and replacements.

"Well worth it," says Dorfman.

I hear ya.

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