Can you hear me now?

I attended a social function recently and was enjoying a conversation with a new acquaintance. I recall telling a story and being quite animated. She said, “You have a lot of verve.” But I thought she said, “You have a lot of nerve.”

I like to think I have “verve,” which is “vigor and spirit of enthusiasm,” as well as “nerve,” defined as “a sense of purpose,” but I most definitely have an age-related hearing loss, for which I wear hearing aids. And the aid in my right ear needs cleaning — or replacement.

Hearing well takes many forms and can have unanticipated impact. Here’s an illustration. The website contained an anecdote about an elderly couple who were having dinner with friends. After eating, the wives went into the kitchen. The two gentlemen were talking, and one said, “Last night we went out to a restaurant that was really great, I recommend it highly.”

His friend said, “What was the name of the restaurant?” The first man thought and thought and finally said, “What is the name of that flower you give to someone you love? You know, the one that’s red and has thorns.”

Do you mean a rose?” said his friend. “Yes, that’s the one,” replied the man. He then turned to the kitchen and called, “Rose, what’s the name of the restaurant we went to last night?”

That’s a rather funny little story. I suspect you may be smiling after reading it — maybe even laughing out loud. But you’re also probably thinking, “That’s not really about hearing loss.” But, hear this, it could be — because memory loss and hearing loss are often close companions.

If you cannot hear something well, you are not going to remember it. Research finds that “older adults with hearing loss have a faster rate of mental decline and the greater the rate of hearing loss, the faster the decline in memory and thinking.”

Now, if that does not cause you to make an appointment for a hearing evaluation (or prompt you to get the aid in your right ear checked), I am not sure what will.

Need more incentive? Hearing loss can also be a safety issue. If you have untended hearing problems, you may not hear the shouted warning as you cross a street in heavy traffic or the timer on the oven — I have a tray of burnt-to-a-crisp cookies that attest to that problem — or the smoke alarm in the middle of the night.

Approximately one in three people between 65 and 74 have hearing loss and nearly half of those older than 75 have difficulty hearing. I have learned — sometimes the hard way — what it takes to manage the hearing challenges that both my husband and I have. A willingness to admit to family and friends that you have these issues is a first step. There is a lot of denial around hearing loss.

I used to feel embarrassed when my small grandson would peek behind my ears to see if I was wearing my aids, and now I cherish that moment. It’s a reminder that he needs me to listen well — with all the verve I can muster.

Sharon Johnson is an associate professor emeritus, Oregon State University, and the author of “How Gray in My Valley: Enlightened Observations About Being Old.” Reach her at

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