President Clinton was fitted for small hearing aids in both ears on Friday after tests confirmed that he had moderate loss of high-frequency hearing. Clinton has complained privately for several years that he has difficulty hearing in crowded rooms and at noisy rallies.
The deterioration in the president’s hearing was found at his annual physical examination at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. Ear, nose and throat specialists recommended completely-in-canal devices and the president agreed to wear them, aides said.
Experts said that the type of hearing loss suffered by the president is common after the age of 40, particularly among those exposed to loud noise like rock music, gunfire and crowds.
Clinton has experienced all three, said Mike McCurry, his press secretary, listing hunting rifles and rock ‘n’ roll during his youth, and political rallies.
“This is a big baby-boomer thing,” McCurry said. “It’s a new thing we’re all going to have to get used to.”
An estimated 28 million Americans are deaf or hard of hearing, and more than 5 million wear hearing aids or other corrective devices, according to the National Institutes of Health.
High-frequency hearing loss like Clinton’s is increasingly common, but relatively few people seek treatment, said Anne Betsworth, senior audiologist at the University of California medical center.
“With the population now experiencing more noise exposure, we’ll probably be seeing these problems at a younger age,” Betsworth said.
She said that normal speech is carried out at audiofrequencies between 500 and 2,000 hertz (cycles per second). Clinton’s difficulties are in the 3,000-8,000 hertz range, doctors noted.
Clinton’s physical was delayed several months while Clinton recovered from his tendon surgery. The president was particularly proud of his weight - down to 196 pounds from 216 pounds at his last two yearly physicals. It is the first time that Clinton’s weight has fallen below 200 since he ran for president in 1991.
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: HELP IN HEARING The modern, all-in-the-ear digital hearing aids, such as the ones President Clinton is expected to use, automatically filter out background noise while amplifying nearby conversation. Such devices cost up to $2,000.